North Mall Renovations to Make Campus More Accessible

CMC students returning to campus this fall may think for a moment that they’ve encountered an old-fashioned Erector Set, particularly if they have classes in the North Mall area that runs east-west between the glass Living Room cube near the Kravis Center, and Heggblade Center. That’s where a number of construction projects, including a warren of underground drainage pipes, bioswales, landscaping, and a new fountain, are nearing completion.

What it all boils down to is a realignment of the western portion of the North Mall, as it joins the Kravis Center, with the result being a more attractive, user-friendly, and spacious area better suited to the sunny climate, as well as the social habits of CMCers. For starters, the two separate sidewalks that once stretched through that area are being replaced with a single sidewalk, which means lots of extra new space to create outdoor classrooms, seating, and dining areas on either side of the sidewalk. This extends to The Hub as well. The little eatery where students can grab a quick sandwich or hamburger and watch TV or shoot a game of pool now will have a much more generous outdoor patio, so students can gather outside.

“The Hub patio at the upper elevation is going to be significantly larger than it was before,” says CMC Director of Construction Frank Perri. “In fact, the majority of the work occurring this summer is designed to create more gathering and social spaces to bring people together,” he says.

Perhaps the most significant project to students this summer is the installation of a brand new fountain within Flamson Plaza. The old, beloved square fountain, host to years and years of birthday pondings and senior thesis celebrations, was removed to make way for a completely traversable rectilinear, five-section fountain that ensures students will have much more space to play in the water. The new shape also is conducive to foot traffic on either side. “If we kept the same square fountain design,” Perri says, “there would have been much less room on either side of the fountain for transit than the current configuration.”

The North Mall renovations this summer also include creating ADA access to the Athenaeum, Heggblade, McKenna Auditorium, and The Hub/Emett Student Center, and at the Kravis Center, the reflecting pool at the Living Room is being modified to correct water infiltration issues, and to modify the design of the pool basin. The reflecting pool was designed to give the illusion that the Living Room is floating on water, but hasn’t been used, because of technical issues, since the initial opening of the Kravis Center last fall.

Perri says the existing 4-inch-deep pool, with a precast concrete basin, will be replaced with a pool consisting of a half-inch of water depth, over a black, diamond-cut Mesabi granite basin.

Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest challenge facing his crews this summer, as they scramble to complete the projects by late August, has been discovering structures belowground that no one knew existed until the backhoes and digging started.

An example, he says, is when workers ran into a couple of storm drains in front of Heggblade that were from the old street that at one time came through campus. “Whenever we encounter something like that, we have to stop because we don’t know if it’s abandoned or live. Then we bring somebody out to do tests. If it’s abandoned, fine, we can take it out. If it’s not, we have to reroute it.”

Despite the challenges and looming deadline, Perri says the end product of all the construction will be worth it for students and faculty alike.

“I hope students look at this as an opportunity to find other ways to meet and interact not only amongst themselves, but with faculty as well.”

Even CMC’s crowning natural gloriesits oak treeshave been considered in all of the planning for social space. “We’ve tried to take the fabulous oaks that we have here on campus and integrate them,” he says. “The one outside the southwest corner of the Hub; the one at Seaman Hall; the one in front of the Athenaeum. We’ve taken those spaces, around those trees, and have made them social spaces.”

Perri also says that more seat-walls have been constructed affording convenient spaces for impromptu sit-down discussions, including more space for faculty to teach outside the classroom and enjoy the climate, if they are so inclined.

“One thing we observed after the Kravis Center was completed was that we had a lack of outside classroom areas,” Perri says. “You would go down to the lower courtyard level of Kravis and right on the stairs, a professor would be holding a class. We decided we needed to address that in a realistic manner, to keep people out of paths of travelredirect them off the main public way so that there’s some privacy involved. So that’s what we did.”