How Virginia Tech is activating outdoor student spaces
In anticipation of the fall semester, Virginia Tech has upgraded half a dozen outdoor areas to improve their function as study and gathering areas.
The university has invested $250,000 to make outdoor spaces more inclusive, accessible, and usable by adding such features as semi-permanent tent structures, overhang exterior lighting, outdoor outlets, permanent furniture, and more comprehensive wireless internet service.
“During a normal year, many students use the library, building atriums, unscheduled classrooms, and dining areas to read, study, or work on class projects,” said Ken Smith, vice provost for academic resource management. “These spaces will still be open to students but at a reduced occupancy. Having some protected outdoor spaces, with wifi access and furniture, will give students more options for places to be during a challenging semester.”
With many students receiving half or more of their classes in an online format this fall, Virginia Tech wants to ensure there are a variety of places to host them while they are participating in those classes, or just studying or working on class projects. These spaces are not scheduled for classes, but are open to students for individual use anytime of the day.
Specifically, six sites have been targeted for improvements, including the construction of tents, additional power outlets, and outdoor furniture.
The improved outdoor sites include Dietrick Plaza, Pedrew-Yates Plaza, Owens Plaza, Lavery Hall Plaza (near Turner Place), Burchard Plaza, and Derring Overhang.
Many are located in parts of campus that make them convenient for eating a take-out lunch. Because of the university’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, all are hardscape and not grass.
Virginia Tech also has upgraded outdoor wifi at several locations, including Burchard Hall plaza, Hahn Garden area, Owens Hall courtyard, and the Lavery Hall patio near Turner Place.
The improvements — representing a collaboration between the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; Department of Student Affairs; Provost; Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; Student Affairs; Equity and Accessibility; Safety and Security; Procurement; Information Technology; Transportation Services; and many more — serve as an example of the university living up to the priorities in its Campus Master Plan, leveraging its existing spaces with intention and efficiency, and its commitment to deliver accessible and inclusive spaces both indoors and outdoors, said Christopher H. Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities.
“The exciting activation and enhancement of these outdoor environments is just one way the university is leveraging existing spaces on the Blacksburg campus to deliver new opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and community-building,” Kiwus said. “Guided by the Campus Master Plan and Beyond Boundaries vision, we remain committed to providing mixed-use spaces that are engaging, accessible, and inclusive, in support of our university’s dynamic and evolving mission.”
One goal under the master plan, for example, is to transform Dietrick Plaza through an ongoing capital project. Virginia Tech has worked this summer to better use the space under the overhang, moving the university a step closer to realizing the goal of making the plaza a more dynamic, utilized outdoor space.
— Written by Mason Adams