By Kieran McQuilkin
Washington and Lee University is waiting for a green light from the city of Lexington on a plan to build a park around first-year residence halls on Washington Street.
University officials plan to begin the project, called Washington Street Park, once students move out at the end of May. They hope to complete construction on the space by the beginning of the next academic year.
Lexington’s Planning Commission has recommended to City Council that it approve the plans for the green space design. Council is scheduled to consider the plan April 2.
Over the summer, Gilliam Dormitory will be demolished and pedestrian walkways will be built. The university will put in grass and plants once the construction is finished in the fall. University spokesman Brian Eckert said no decisions have been made yet on the kind of greenery that will be planted.
Washington Street would be mostly unchanged after the construction, except for the addition of devices to slow traffic, called speed tables, said Lexington Director of Planning Terry Harrington.
Green space part of a bigger plan
The planned green space would consist of three open grass spaces separated by small trees and plants. There will be walkways around each of the open spaces as well as one larger walkway connecting them – stretching from the corner of Washington and Nelson streets to the entrance of Graham-Lees Residence Hall.
Eckert said the green space is part of a $20 million redevelopment plan for the first-year dormitories, but he didn’t have a precise estimate for the landscaping project. The redevelopment started with a renovation of Gaines Hall in 2013, and construction is more than half finished on the renovation of Graham-Lees.
The first-year redevelopment plan is one component of Washington and Lee’s 12-part master plan that was approved by City Council last fall. Those updates include renovating DuPont Hall, which will become the Center for Global Learning, renovating the Warner Athletic Center, and building a third-year housing community near the athletic fields.
As part of its push for environmental sustainability, the university is also considering building an array of solar panels north of campus that would power planned third-year housing. Two existing solar arrays over the college’s parking deck and the law school generate 3 percent of the school’s overall electricity, said chair of the University Sustainability Committee Elizabeth Knapp.
Sustainable start is easier
Rachel Samuels, president of Washington and Lee’s student environmental group, said building sustainability into new projects is easier.
“It’s much more difficult to retroactively install more efficient plumbing, electricity, etc. than it is to build something with environmental designs from the ground up,” Samuels said in an email.
Rockbridge County officials approved the solar array project, but the university administration will look into financial projections before moving forward. Knapp said the solar panels and green space initiatives are a strong step forward for the university’s Climate Action Plan – a plan to achieve zero campus carbon emissions by 2050.
Both city and university officials are confident the sustainability projects will be approved.
“I can’t think of any outstanding issues,” said University Planner Tom Contos. “The current reviews are more technical, ensuring that we comply with city design standards.”
Harrington said there are no foreseeable problems from the city’s perspective either.