SRPC Bestows Annual Award to the University of New Hampshire Campus Planning Department

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SRPC Executive Director Cynthia Copeland presenting UNH Campus Planning with the annual Excellence Award.

At the 2016 Strafford Regional Planning Commission Annual Meeting Executive Director Cynthia Copeland presented the University of New Hampshire Campus Planning with the annual award for excellence in planning and commitment to stewardship. Accepting the award were Doug Bencks, University Architect and Director of Campus Planning, Steve Pesci, Special Projects Director and David Clark, Space Utilization Specialist. View the award speech below:

Today, on the lovely campus of the University of New Hampshire, my thoughts, and I hope yours as well, turn to the relationship that we have individually and corporately with the University.  Whether we are alumni or proud parents, whether we are employees or vendors, whether we attend sporting or cultural events, each of us in this region is influenced by the University.  For example, Strafford Regional Planning Commission has had fourteen employees during the 2016 fiscal year with two thirds of these employees holding master’s or bachelor’s degrees from the University. We just heard a stimulating discussion about how academics and practitioners are working to better their shared understanding of science and the built environment.  As we travelled to our meeting we had the opportunity to experience the Wildcat transit system and its connectivity to metro Boston and beyond. We got a peak at the annual construction marathon that ensures that the campus is ready for the fall while accommodating summer students.  It is our colleagues, the planners of the built and natural environment within the University of New Hampshire, who we honor today.

This year the 2016 Excellence Award goes to the University of New Hampshire Campus Planning.  Here to accept the 2016 Excellence Award are Douglas Bencks, University Architect and Director of Campus Planning, David Clark, Space Utilization Specialist, and Stephen Pesci, Special Projects Director.

As one of five departments within UNH Facilities Division, Campus Planning staff work with the Departments of Energy and Utilities, Facilities Services, Finance and Administration, and Facilities Project Management. Together these five entities carry out the day to day operations, maintenance, and capital projects – everything it takes to keep the University physically running. Campus Planning functions like a municipal planning office with responsibilities for master planning, capital improvement planning, budgeting, committee administration, GIS/CAD inventory, space planning, project planning, design functions, regulatory guidance and oversight, and traffic and scenario modeling.  Over several years staff could be assigned to the master plan, space utilization studies, analysis of traffic and energy usage, solicitations for designs and remodeling plans, design management, and preparation of archival documents. And not to be forgotten, Town Gown relations.

The Campus Planning staff act as stewards of the built and natural environment. This includes building on and enhancing past designs and plans, carrying out the current University strategic plan and vision, and meeting the evolving needs of faculty, students, staff and visitors. It is all about the student experience through the creation of positive memories for generations of students to enjoy.

What Eric Huddleston started as a master plan process two years after he was hired in 1914 continues 100 years later. This is a legacy to celebrate and honor in 2016.  Re-interpreting the unified architecture of the Huddleston years (1916-1946) with its Neo Georgian (or Georgian Revival) style is a function of Campus Planning. Re-designing the post WWII years with its Modern Architecture style and highway orientation and parking is a function of Campus Planning. Understanding the principle of sustainability as it applies to the contemporary university (1990 – present day) with its emphasis on a place-based college is a function of Campus Planning. One of the primary tools used for guidance is the Campus Master Plan (1994, 2004 and 2012).  A hundred years of master planning – that is an amazing feat of endurance and fortitude and a job well done.

Here are a few takeaways from my conversation with Doug and Steve that convey the essence of Campus Planning as a planning office and a valuable partner in our region:

  • Their appreciation for the ability to do both municipal scale planning and carry out owner/operator responsibilities. This encompasses both the 30,000 foot view and the discrete.
  • In the late 1980’s the University Trustees established that each campus in the state system would have a master plan to guide capital investments. Sounds like the RSAs for municipal master plans.
  • Finding funding is harder than ever so UNH needs to take care of what they have. Stewardship is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Buildings, structures, and the landscape need to be enduring, easy to maintain and quality as they will be here for a 100+ years.
  • A continuum of efforts that creates an even keel and avoids backtracking works best. Use creative, cost effective means.
  • Planning principles from the campus’s founding days do have value for today’s students and visitors. History does have relevancy.
  • In 1994 the Comprehensive Campus Master Plan recommended the development of a landscaped, walkable campus with architecture that was place-based and reflective of UNH’s history. Staying focused on the walking campus has made a better, more livable campus.
  • Lesson learned in 2012: when pushing the limits in a master plan – looking at all options – listen, and be prepared to take a path with new parameters
  • Dealing with the possibility of no growth in student population or a shrinking population is a new parameter to consider, and it impacts many layers of decision-making in the master plan and beyond. This too relates to municipalities.
  • Town Gown relations reflect priorities of the Town. It is possible to create recommendations that work for both parties, such as the 2004 Master Plan recommended more on campus housing and the 2012 Master Plan acknowledged more private housing off-campus. Both recommendations happened in a short timeframe.
  • University transportation is a system with goals, a data driven model, and data based decisions that can assist on campus, in town, and in the region. Standing committees with Town Gown membership create consistent decisions.
  • Campus Planning has five to six interns every year who assist with data gathering and analysis. They provide a wonderful asset to the region’s transportation planning agencies and transit providers. Strafford Regional Planning Commission currently employs two interns! Thank you Steve!
  • We must be doing something right as our class size is growing!

In conclusion, it seems clear as to the value of Campus Planning and its cadre of professional staff working together within the University, the Town Gown arena and the region.  Strafford Regional Planning Commission congratulates Campus Planning for their excellence in planning and stewardship.