Construction to shut down 17th Street on campus

Vehicles fill the parking lot between Ackert Hall (pictured) and the Engineering Complex Thursday morning. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Students and faculty will notice changes to campus roads beginning April 13 when 17th Street is closed for the chilled water expansion project. This closure is the first of many changes to happen to campus roads over the next two years.

The changes are caused by the need for new buildings and renovation to older buildings. The chilled water expansion project will make the system much more efficient and allow for more buildings to be connected to the system so as to provide better air-conditioning.

Ryan Swanson, associate vice president of the division of facilities and university architect, is in charge of the upcoming expansion and all improvements occurring on campus.

“We’re trying to more cohesively connect all the projects being done together,” Swanson said.

The chilled water expansion project includes a new water-cooling facility on the north side of campus, as well as larger pipes underneath key roads such as 17th Street and Mid Campus Drive. Because the road is being torn up, university planners see this as a great time to make some changes to the flow of traffic on campus.

Instead of putting roads back in after the new water pipes are laid, the plan is to put in a pedestrian mall that will go from Claflin on the north past Ward, Rathbone and Seaton to College Heights Road on the south.

Swanson said he hopes this addition of the pedestrian mall will improve campus safety for people walking on campus.

In addition to the project on 17th Street, Mid Campus Drive will be receiving changes during the summer of 2016 when it is torn up to lay new water pipes for the chilled water expansion project. Mid Campus Drive will also be turned into a pedestrian mall where students can talk with classmates between classes as well as experience a more pedestrian friendly environment.

Some students have reservations about this plan. Simrun Hundal, freshman in animal sciences and industry, said she does not know if the plan will be beneficial.

“I know that a lot of people walk on those streets, but I also know that a lot of people drive there and use it to go through campus,” Hundal said. “I feel that closing those roads would make it difficult for those using automobiles.”

However, Swanson said he believes these improvements will improve the student experience.

“Essentially, these projects are taking the core of historical campus and making it pedestrian friendly and safer for students,” Swanson said.

Anna Setter, junior in food sciences and agriculture economics, said she agrees with Swanson.

“I think it is an investment for the future, and that it will be worth all of the construction to have the pedestrian mall,” Setter said.

For those worried these changes to Mid Campus and 17th will limit parking, the Division of Facilities is conducting a parking study to determine where people are and where they need to go on campus. This study will help university planners be better able to design a parking and transit system to serve students and faculty.

As of now, the plan is to push most of the parking to the north side of campus, utilizing the parking lots on either side of the football stadium and shuttling students to the core of campus.

The hope is to make the transit run a 30-minute loop with the idea of it taking about 15 minutes to get from the parking lots to the south side of campus.

These changes will make K-State more like other college campuses that are pedestrian-friendly and utilize transit well.

Getting a transit system established and widely used could be a challenge for the university, because the Midwest is so heavily reliant on cars. Swanson said he believes the changes will take a culture shift, but that it will ultimately help students interact with each other between classes more. Swanson acknowledges that change is always difficult, but said he hopes that the student body and faculty will enjoy the changes made.

Many public forums were held with students to get their take on the project, and those present liked the idea.

Other construction projects being conducted by university planners include the new engineering building, Wefald Hall and the new building for the College of Business Administration.

According to Swanson, the 2025 goal of becoming a top 25 public research institution will require more buildings that are currently in the works but have not yet been funded. These buildings will be built in current parking lots. To keep as many parking spots as possible, a new parking garage is also being considered across from the Derby complex.

Some students may complain that having to park and take a shuttle across campus is an inconvenience. However, Swanson said he believes the added safety will outweigh that inconvenience and that it won’t keep people from choosing K-State.

“After all, you come to K-State because it’s a great place to be with great people,” Swanson said.