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Improvements proposed for cultural neighbors — Washington U and Forest Park

Two of the most important civic, cultural, educational and recreational institutions in the region — Washington University and Forest Park — announced building and renovation plans over the weekend, plans that include transformative changes to come as well as some work already completed.

The plans also include a campaign for bulking up endowment funds for the future for Forest Park. Together, the plans represent a total of about $370 million and include five buildings and a green on the eastern part of the university campus.

The park and the university are relatively close in age, having their genesis in the second half of the 19th century. Both are linked by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904; prominent university buildings were rented and used by World’s Fair administrative operations, for example. Both have seen ups and downs in their fortunes and physical and material resources.

The university has risen from streetcar college status in the mid-20th century to consistently  high rankings from various news media. It is competitive with the Ivy League and prestigious West Coast schools, and has a medical school that is world famous. Both park and university, in 2015, are healthy institutions and serve important roles as structural components of the civic infrastructure.

Forest Park Forever, a not-for-profit organization formed in 1986, has led the charge for improvements in the park. On Friday, in a late-evening  announcement ceremony at the spectacular Grand Basin, the organization celebrated its fund-raising campaign called “Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park’s Future.”

Forest Park Forever and the city of St. Louis are partners in these efforts. Forest Park Forever’s intention is to raise $130 million, much of which is already in the bank.

Of that total, $30 million will be spent to complete projects put forth in the Forest Park Master Plan, and $100 million is earmarked for endowment. Income from the endowment would help to maintain work already completed in line with the 20-year-old plan, which has been effective in rescuing the park from a slow but evident and steady decline and taking it to its present state of beauty and stability. As of now, about $117 million in private money has been raised toward the $130 million goal.

Natural areas on the eastern part of Forest Park are to be enhanced.
Credit Rendering from Forest Park Forever
Natural areas on the eastern part of Forest Park are to be enhanced.

Specifically, the $30 million is dedicated to several projects, some in the planning stage and some completed. In the planning stage are landscaping and waterways improvements on the eastern edge of the park. There, one of the master plan’s most vivid successes can be found in features attractive not only to human visitors but to a rich ecology of small mammals, waterfowl and aquatic and prairie plant life.

In addition to improvements on the east, the Liberal Arts Bridge that connects the Muny and the Boathouse in the heart of the park would be rebuilt, and new landscaping and waterways improvements would be made beneath the bridge and to the southeast of it.

Top shows an existing comfort station. The bottom is the rendering of what is planned.
Credit Forest Park Forever
The top shows an existing comfort station. The bottom is the rendering of what is planned.

Under the rubric of “Revitalized Recreation and Visitor Amenities,” the $30 million would also provide money for a new play area, recreation paths, ball fields and the reconfiguration of playing fields to accommodate more simultaneous activities; bathroom improvements and “welcoming gathering plazas around select restrooms.”

Curiously, the renovated community event spaces category includes mention of the rebuilding and transformation of the Upper Muny parking lot. This work was completed earlier this year and celebrated in late May. The Central Fields adjacent to the Muny lot would be rebuilt for routine games and big-deal events such LouFest and the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, which in its maturity has become a civic resource itself.

Important work would be done in improving sidewalks. In many places broken or irregular sidewalks present impediments to wheel chair and walker users. Work is needed especially near major institutions such as the Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum. Again, projects already completed are mentioned in the “Improved Safety, Access and Circulation” category in what is described as “a new way-finding” system, which was introduced last year, and this year’s on-line Forest Park map (forestparkmap.org).  

New front door

However, by far, the more ambitious campaign belongs to Washington University. Approximately $240 million would pay for a program of re-design and new construction on the eastern end of the campus. The work is scheduled to begin in 2017.

The key components are five new buildings and important physical reckonings with 21st century demands for sustainable design. Some of these projects have been announced previously.

Here are projects proposed in this weekend's announcement (see map at bottom).

A redesign plan for the Danforth Campus’ east end: The reconsideration and redesigning that would have the greatest public impact is an extensive proposal to redesign the landscape of the eastern end of the campus. For years, it was a sea of asphalt, and presented a too familiar parking-lot face to the city.  The east end, when this plan is completed, will provide a considerably more appropriate visual connection not only to the park but to the city, and to passersby on busy Skinker Boulevard. This piece of the campus sits at the terminus of the major, ceremonial part of Lindell Boulevard in its passage from the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch and downtown to the front yard of the Danforth Campus.

It is iconic and, for all its vanishing asphalt, sentimental ground. For some, if not many current students and alumni, the allee of elms that provide a sheltering sense of entry to the campus is sacred. It invites the visitor to climb the monumental stairway and to pass through the Brookings Hall arch, and to continue onward to the gracious accommodations of the Brookings Quadrangle. For students, alumni and for the public, it is symbolically substantial and a marker of memory. It appears  in the renderings posted this weekend to be gone.

According to announcements from the university administration and in university publications, “The new east end of the Danforth Campus will offer both a welcoming entrance and places to gather and celebrate. Landscaping will honor the historical design of the Danforth Campus and offer an enhanced, tree-lined frame of Brookings Hall while improving pedestrian access into and across the Danforth Campus. A new campus gathering place, the Central Green, would be created. The east end development is planned by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd., Alexandria, Va.

The Anabeth and John Weil Hall: Following closely in a traditions of support of the fine arts, originated by his grandmother, the late Etta Steinberg, and sustained by his parents, the late Florence Steinberg Weil and Richard K. Weil, John Weil and his wife, Anabeth Weil, donated $12.5 million toward a new facility that would become a signal of “leadership at the forefront of interdisciplinary design and education.”

In announcing the plans for the project in 2012, John Weil said, “There is a great excitement about helping with an important building project.” The Weil building will be west of the existing Kemper building and north of Givens Hall. The architect is KieranTimberlake, Philadelphia.

The Henry A. and Elvira H. Jubel Hall: A 2012 university announcement of the planning and construction of Jubel Hall, funded by WU alumnus Donald Jubel in memory of his parents, said that building would house the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, "the school’s second-largest major.” It also would “become the nucleus for campus-wide collaboration involving multidisciplinary research to promote the convergence of biomechanics, materials science and nanotechnology.” Jubel Hall will occupy what is now a parking lot in front of Whitaker Hall on the northeast side of the campus. Moore Ruble Yudell, Santa Monica, Calif., is the architecture firm.

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum lobby and gallery: An addition to the north side of the Kemper Art Museum would establish a new entry for the public and would add gallery space. Also included in this category is the integration of the Florence Steinberg Weil Sculpture Garden into east end redesign.

A Welcome Center and a new building called the Hub: These proposed new buildings would bookend an also proposed ellipse at the foot of the grand stairway leading up to Brookings Hall, according to university promotional materials. The Welcome Center would “offer all visitors a home base for their campus experience and house undergraduate admissions. The Hub would bring together dining, alternative transportation support and academic programming.” KieranTimberlake is the architecture firm for this project as well.

Also planned for construction: An underground parking facility for close to 800 cars.

A diversity initiative is included. The university’s announced intentions are to “to create strategic contracting opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned business enterprises.

Environmental sensitivity and advanced sustainability features are part of the big picture. All the new buildings will meet at least gold standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Other efforts, “such a hybrid geothermal energy system, combined heat and power systems, and rainwater and graywater reuse, are being considered” university promotional materials state.

new plans for Washington University october 2015
Credit Washington University

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