It’s a balancing act: Capital construction, road closures, and a lot of patience
What goes into coordinating dozens of active Virginia Tech capital construction projects across the commonwealth?
How can university members still traverse campus safely this summer despite inevitable road and sidewalk closures?
Chris Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities, answers these questions and more, below.
Q: What construction projects are happening at Virginia Tech this summer?
Kiwus: It is hard to imagine a more exciting period of construction at Virginia Tech than right now. Capital improvement projects are progressing across all corners of the commonwealth. On the Blacksburg campus alone, there are dozens of active capital projects. From the Multi-Modal Transit Facility, set to bolster transportation offerings; to the chilled water project, commonly known as the "blue pipe project," which will deliver critical infrastructure improvements; and corps residential and academic enhancements; Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community; and Holden Hall, all these capital projects will transform academic, residential, and research opportunities over the long term.
Innovation Campus planning and design efforts continue to move ahead. The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors recently received a design review of the Innovation Campus Academic I Building, a nearly 300,000 gross-square-foot facility in Alexandria. Construction is expected to begin this September.
Construction on the new Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton, Virginia, is also on schedule and is expected to be completed in late 2021 with a grand opening in early 2022. The construction and planning process is being led by the Virginia Tech Foundation.
I encourage you to visit the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities capital construction site to learn about all of these projects and many more.
Creativity & Innovation District Living-Learning Community residence hall in June 2021. Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.
Q: It seems like on the Blacksburg campus there are more road closures this summer than ever before. How do you determine which roads need to be closed around construction sites?
Kiwus: It’s true. Navigating around campus this summer is requiring some forward planning from drivers and pedestrians. The latest impacts continue to be updated within the Campus Closures Map, Waze, and Google Maps.
While we strive to be methodical in implementing phased road and sidewalk closures, a large portion of our construction work — capital construction, renovations, annual road and sidewalk repairs — is intentionally concentrated during the summer months to preserve campus mobility during the academic year.
The majority of our capital projects are planned and designed many years in advance. When funding is allocated and designs are approved, we spring into action. As a result, some campus regions may host multiple major projects at once.
The North Academic District is one of them. The Multi-Modal Transit Facility, Data and Decision Sciences Building, chilled water project, and the infrastructure adjustments needed to support them, are all moving ahead simultaneously. In the district’s near future are also Hitt Hall and Undergraduate Science Laboratories new construction.
Coordinating road and sidewalk closures requires a delicate balance and an unwavering commitment to safety, accessibility, collaboration, and communication. Let’s not forget the substantial amount of patience that is required - and very much appreciated - from the university community.
Q: Who is involved in making these decisions around closures?
Kiwus: We have an extensive network of partners working together to coordinate closures. Stakeholders include Transportation Services, the Office for Equity and Accessibility, Student Affairs, Town of Blacksburg, and teams across the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities — Capital Construction, Renovations, Office of the University Building Official, Office of University Planning — and many more.
Q: What are you doing to ensure campus is still accessible with closures and detours in place?
Accessibility and maintaining barrier-free environments are central to our construction planning efforts. Partnership with the Office for Equity and Accessibility remains pivotal throughout the entire construction lifecycle.
Once a project approaches active status, planning teams begin establishing accessible routes around the sites. In many instances, we will establish new accessible pathways. This also includes traversing the sites to ensure the routes are feasible.
In instances where accessible parking may be impacted, we work to relocate the parking spaces. Bolstering physical accessibility remains a shared commitment at Virginia Tech. University members are encouraged to help contribute to this effort by reporting physical barriers through the Virginia Tech Accessibility Portal.
Additionally, there are many recently completed and ongoing projects that will help reduce physical barriers for the university community. Completion of an accessible pathway between the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and nearby “I” Lot/Cage Lot and a new accessible pathway between Alumni Mall and Squires/Newman Library Plaza are just two that come to mind.
Accessibility in the Northeast and Upper Quad district will be enhanced through the corps capital construction projects. Integration of new accessible entry points widened and continuous sloping pathways and accessible bench seating will improve pedestrian flow and reduce navigation barriers throughout the district.
We will highlight all of these accessibility improvement projects and more in greater detail in VTx in the near future.
Q: How can I find out about closures and impacts on the Blacksburg campus?
Kiwus: We strive to update the university community of construction impacts through a variety of channels, including VTx stories and campus notices, Campus Closures Map, Waze, Google Maps, roadway signage, Town of Blacksburg Citizen Alerts, and the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities Twitter.
Since construction sites are always evolving, we encourage university community members to check these platforms often for the latest impacts.
Q: Will there be a lot of renovations taking place in Virginia Tech facilities this summer?
Kiwus: Absolutely. We have over 1,574 active projects among our renovations, minor modifications, and facilities shops teams across the state. But who’s counting?
From AC installations, to landscaping enhancements, and AREC renovations, it will be exciting to see these projects come to life. We’ll be sharing more about these projects on our Twitter and TikTok. Be sure to follow us!