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Georgia Tech Unveils Sweeping Plan to Steer Campus Expansion Over Next Decade

Tue December 12, 2023 - Southeast Edition
WXIA-TV & Georgia Tech University

Artist rendering of Georgia Tech CCP recommended concept for Hemphill Woods Walk. (Georgia Tech photo)
Artist rendering of Georgia Tech CCP recommended concept for Hemphill Woods Walk. (Georgia Tech photo)

Georgia Tech is banking on a car-free campus, thousands of new student beds and a second life for a shuttered tunnel to support future growth.

WXIA-TV in Atlanta reported Dec. 4 that the Atlanta university's Department of Planning, Design and Construction completed a comprehensive plan in late November to guide expansion over the next 10 years. The roadmap focuses on adding density to the campus core, connecting innovation hubs, spurring new pockets of development and addressing ecological challenges.

One proposal for linking Georgia Tech to Midtown involves reopening the Third Street Tunnel, which allowed pedestrians to travel underneath the Downtown Connector until it closed in 2008 due to crime concerns. The plan suggests pairing the walking path with a nearby pedestrian and bike bridge to Fourth Street.

These are just a few of the intriguing possibilities proposed in Georgia Tech's 2023 Comprehensive Campus Plan (CCP), according to the school. Other proposals include a North Avenue Welcome Center, an on-site water reuse facility, a new thermal energy plant, additional recreational fields, new residence halls, a new performing arts center and a new park where Peters Parking Deck currently stands.

After more than two years of preparation and intensive data collection and analysis, the Planning, Design and Construction department within Georgia Tech's Infrastructure and Sustainability office has finalized the new campus plan.

Steeped in a rich culture of planning and innovation, the CCP is designed to document how campus space will evolve to support the growing needs of the campus community for the next decade and beyond. The university describes the plan as one that is flexible, adaptable, and considers estimated future institutional needs as well as projected trends in higher education.

"Our new Comprehensive Campus Plan outlines a bold future for our campus that supports growth while reaffirming our commitments to students, sustainability, well-being, innovation and our neighboring communities," said Ángel Cabrera, Georgia Tech's president. "I'm excited to see the many ways this plan will enhance the Georgia Tech experience and preserve the beauty of our campus."

Georgia Tech CCP Had Many Influences

The planning department collaborated with a team of consultants to strategize outreach measures, collect and analyze data, and build the foundation for the CCP. Extensive in-person and virtual outreach efforts targeted students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as external stakeholders such as neighborhood associations, churches, the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Andre Dickens.

In alignment with the university's strategic plan, the following guiding principles were instrumental in the CCP's development:

  • Enhance the built and urban ecological environment to create a safe, welcoming, enriching and beautiful campus where every student can thrive.
  • Radiate influence through transformational and innovative academic, research, living and workplace environments, and adapt infrastructure strategies that meet evolving campus needs and growth.
  • Design for an active, well-connected campus that encourages physical movement and discourages a dependency on cars by prioritizing transit, pedestrian, bike and other modalities to provide universal and equitable access.
  • Promote physical and environmental wellness through intentional design and robust community partnerships to improve and cultivate a safe, healthy, equitable and adaptable urban fabric.
  • Foster resiliency and promote stewardship of campus resources through sustainable development and operational strategies in support of Georgia Tech's sustainability and climate action goals.

Additionally, other targeted university studies and assessments, such as the campus space utilization plan, the historic preservation plan, the facility condition report, the landscape master plan and the campus stormwater master plan, heavily influenced the CCP.

First Comprehensive Campus Expansion in 20 Years

Georgia Tech's previous campus plan, issued almost 20 years ago, guided $2 billion in capital investment and laid the groundwork for several defining campus improvements, including the John Lewis Student Center, the EcoCommons and the initial development of Tech Square.

The newly published CCP addresses current campuswide goals and space requirements such as:

  • A 26 percent projected increase in on-campus students, faculty and staff.
  • An additional 2.2 million gross sq. ft. to accommodate growth.
  • Two thousand new beds for first-year students.
  • Additional indoor recreation and outdoor recreational and athletic fields.
  • A car-free campus core.
  • An increase in the campus tree canopy.
  • Additional alternative mobility options.

With these goals and drivers in mind, the 2023 CCP outlines several grand ideas at the noted Atlanta university.

In order to harmonize with and expand the university's EcoCommons, a performance landscape that effectively and responsibly manages stormwater while also providing outdoor recreation space, the CCP wants it to remain a key driver in shaping future development on campus.

Additionally, several other lots could serve as primary locations for future redevelopment, according to the school. For instance, the Peters Parking Deck could become campus green space ideal for recreational use and stormwater management.

Vertical density also should be considered, rather than large building footprints. The CCP recommends Georgia Tech embrace its urban context to explore building heights surpassing five stories within a car-free campus core.

Currently, a topographical ridge that exists on the west side of campus following Marietta Street causes stormwater runoff to flow north into the center of campus. To solve the problem, the CCP recommends capturing stormwater on top of the ridge with a series of active and passive open spaces, fulfilling athletic and recreation needs. The ridge also physically divides the Georgia Tech campus from its neighbors to the west, a historically underserved area. Activating the ridge could also stimulate this area for redevelopment.

Three distinct areas of innovation on campus — Science Square to the south, BioSciences to the north, and Tech Square in the east — share faculty, students and researchers. The CCP recommends improving the connections between those areas through physical infrastructure, such as bridges, and enhanced mobility.

Finally, by applying thoughtful growth, the CCP suggests developing Georgia Tech's campus to the west by healing the ridge and establishing an anchor between campus and the surrounding community.

CCP's Success Dependent on Several Different Studies

Moving forward, follow-up studies are critical to confirm emerging needs and identify priorities for near- and long-term capital investments, according to the Planning, Design, and Construction department.

They include:

  • Sector plans, facilities assessments, space utilization studies and workplace evaluations to better inform the future physical changes to campus.
  • Transit and parking feasibility studies to help determine campus mobility.
  • Operational evaluations will assist in making improvements to student housing, dining and recreation.
  • The Climate Action Plan, a carbon neutrality roadmap with objectives and implementation timelines, needed actions, targets and meaningful mitigation strategies, will help lead the future direction of campus utilities, and additional stormwater research will inform management of the campus landscape.

A trio of additional plans also were developed concurrently with the CCP:

  • The Instructional Space Analysis and Master Plan, an assessment of campus classrooms, labs, and informal learning spaces to align with the Georgia Tech's vision for learning into the future.
  • The Student Engagement and Well-Being Programming Study, an analysis of the administrative, operational and programming space needed to support the physical and mental health of the growing student population.
  • The Sustainability Next Plan, which calls on Georgia Tech to be a global thought leader by catalyzing innovation through education and research, and to lead by example in the culture of sustainability.

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