Walton Way campus could be site of growth for consolidated university, officials say

Augusta State University could become the site of new dorms, parking decks and academic buildings to accommodate potential student growth from its consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University, particularly freshmen living on campus, said facilities directors from the two universities.

Ongoing studies and enrollment projections will determine what and how much will be built, but whatever is added will be in keeping with current architectural style and will not overwhelm the neighborhood, the officials said.

In response to a Georgia Open Records Act request, officials shared planning and conceptual drawings they are making as they do preliminary planning.

Before the consolidation was announced in January, ASU had been planning to expand its Wrightsboro Road campus, said Campus Architect Fred Ricketson.

“We were moving from a commuter campus to a destination campus,” he said.

But after consolidation, working with counterparts at GHSU, the Walton Way campus was also considered. Surface parking lots make up about 50 percent of that campus, said Phil Howard, the vice president for facilities service.

“If we could solve parking in a different way, we could free up a lot of real estate for development,” he said.

The ASU and GHSU facilities staffs have taken the map of the Walton Way campus and dropped buildings in different places, trying out several concepts. For instance, some planning has included parking decks “because we are going to displace parking if we build on surface parking,” Howard said.

One concept that was included on several drawings had a deck, or possibly dorms, built into a hill in the campus’ southwest corner near the intersection of Arsenal Avenue and McDowell Street because it would help it blend in better, Ricketson said.

“Because of the hill, you disguise the height of it,” he said.

Other plans include repurposing existing buildings, Howard said.

Any new buildings will not tower over the surroundings homes, said Jennifer Smith, the director of planning, design and construction management at GHSU.

“We are extremely sensitive” to the concerns of neighbors, she said.

“Our goal would be not to go over four stories” tall, Howard said. None of the buildings currently on campus is taller than four stories, Ricketson said.

Another goal is to have new structures retain the architectural styles on the campus, such as white columns and certain roof styles, while also seeking to unify the campuses, Ricketson said.

The universities have consultants conducting student needs assessment, parking and transportation studies and classroom utilization, Smith said. Another consolidation working group is doing enrollment projections.

Originally, ASU planned to add 600 student beds, phasing in 200 at a time, Ricketson said.

Any new beds will likely be phased in also, Howard said, and anything added will be done in a way that would not hinder future growth.

“We want to keep in mind years down the road,” Smith said. The group is playing with the idea of keeping things in zones, such as an academic zone, “and then let the needs assessments tell us the size,” she said.

Anything built other than an academic building would be paid for by operation fees. A dining hall, for instance, would be financed by meal plan sales, Howard said.

“They have to support themselves through a business plan based on fees,” he said. Concepts for the Wrightsboro Road campus now appear to be limited to recreation areas, intramural fields and additional parking. Officials said those plans might involve the acquisition of more property along Wrightsboro Road and across Damascus Road.

In a memo to officials at the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, there is a proposal “to have mandatory student housing requirements for incoming freshmen.” The new university would need the housing to attract students from farther away and improve retention of students, Howard said.

“If we don’t build it, we can be assured they won’t come,” he said.

More