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Friday, October 2, 2020

Highland Heights Planning Commission Views NKU Plans in Development

 

Northern Kentucky Master Plan projects are at the preliminary discussion/idea development stage, but planners hope to have a final draft plan in November.

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

At its September meeting, the Highland Heights Planning and Zoning Commission welcomed members of the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Master Plan Committee who presented initial design concepts and plans for renovations and possible future expansion of the campus.




Some of these changes could take place within the next few years, while others are ideas for several years into the future.

At this point, the committee is gathering reactions and feedback on their ideas. They presented more than one scenario for many of their plans. NKU committee member Kevin Petersen of Ayers Saint Gross Architects and Planners made the presentation.

He explained that the plan is to gather input and work toward finalizing a draft plan over the next several weeks and to present a final draft plan in November. He noted that the committee has met previously with city officials to begin discussion on vehicle circulation in and near campus, development plans that could tie into the town center area and other issues.

Identifying main goals of the project


Petersen said they started with a space needs assessment and found some academic space needs in the colleges of arts and sciences, business, health and human services, but also found pressing needs for improvements in space for academic affairs, student services, administration and athletics. The primary focus appeared to be on enhancement of existing space instead of major expansion.

He identified four main goals of the project:

  1. To support a more engaged university serving the Northern Kentucky region
  2. To create a place of academic excellence and innovation to support a diversity of learners
  3. To design a welcoming and desirable NKU experience
  4. To leverage campus assets to create value


Within this framework, the goals were to:

  • Optimize the campus core, make it more walkable and accessible
  • Enhance student experience including the library, student center, student union and student living spaces
  • Define the campus perimeter, providing easier access to the core and improvements to parking, communications, signage, walkways, wayfinding and campus entry points.

 

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Presenting several scenarios


From that point, Petersen provided several scenarios with pros and cons based on feedback by campus stakeholders. He identified the most popular options in each part of the plan.

For academic spaces within the core, the most well-received option called for building smaller additions and doing major renovations of existing buildings. This could involve additions and renovations to the sciences that would create a new science center, as well as enhancements to business, law, the arts and engineering buildings. 

Planners provided different ideas for development of the campus academic buildings but the most popular involves renovations to existing buildings with some smaller additions.

 

A large part of Petersen’s presentation focused on what he called “the student experience.” He focused on transforming the library into a true academic resource center. Space could then be opened within the student union by moving academic services into the enhanced library space. Some administrative offices might also be moved from the student union, thus freeing up more space for student-focused activities, student organizations and meeting spaces. Some of the administrative offices would move to the Civic Center, which would also include a new alumni space. 

Student-centered space is a high priority for the plan.


He proposed segregating freshmen year students from the upper class students, and redesigning student housing to provide more common room dorm-style spaces for first-year students and value-added apartment-like spaces to attract upper class students. He also proposed better walkway connections between off campus housing and the campus.

Improvements in student housing options could draw more students onto campus.

To better define the campus, the proposal involved improvements to the approaches into campus, with clearer identification and a more welcoming experience for visitors. Much discussion centered around choices for athletics and recreation, what can come in the next few years, as well as plans for a stadium and fieldhouse in the future. The most popular option for athletics and recreation involved keeping these facilities and spaces as a crescent along the edge of campus surrounding the campus core, rather than locating them all in one area.

While some athletic and recreation enhancement can happen soon, other plans are longer-term and involve more investment.


Enhancing campus and community connections


Strengthening connections between campus and city was another goal discussed. Petersen spoke of better pedestrian links to campus and better alignment with the city of Highland Height’s plans for the town center. He briefly discussed ideas for making Nunn Drive a retail destination. He said NKU would seek out partnerships with businesses on land the university owns along I-275, including space to serve as a business incubator as well as room for established businesses.

Petersen pointed out about 70 acres of undeveloped land owned by the university southwest of campus. He said there are some ideas for that area, but these are just at the brainstorming stage. For example, one day a new community could be built there, one that focuses on health, wellness and sustainability, an idea he said is growing in popularity across the U.S. 



He noted this idea, as well as plans for incubators, mixed-use developments and town center development require close planning to align with the city’s comprehensive plan and would involve partnerships with the city, area businesses and the community.

Next steps for the project are:

  • Develop an implementation and prioritization strategy
  • Address impacts to infrastructure, mobility, parking
  • Develop and vet the Draft Plan with NKU Steering Committee, key stakeholders and the campus community
  • Finalize Master Plan recommendations based on feedback
  • Roll out a final draft plan in November

For more information and news on progress of the plan, go to the Northern Kentucky University 2020 Master Plan website.

Some athletic and recreation plans are short-term, while others will be developed for the future and require more investment.

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