An extensive renovation and expansion project planned for Ozark and Vol Walker Halls on the University of Arkansas campus this summer will result in the need for a temporary road to service the two-year construction.
The best route for that temporary gravel road, according to university associate vice chancellor for facilities Mike Johnson, includes a section that will cut through the historic Old Main lawn.
“We looked at a number of alternatives, but they took more trees, crossed more senior walks, they had more impact,” said Johnson. “Looking at all of it, and safety is first, last and always, what we’ve come up with is the idea that works best for everything.”
The plan is to remove a section of the rock wall along Arkansas Avenue, and begin the service road at the intersection of Lafayette Street. From there, it will run up along the southern side of Old Main lawn, between Ozark Hall and Old Main, turn north between Vol Walker Hall and Mullins library, before becoming a one-way-exit point onto Maple Street through the parking lot between the Agriculture building and the Human Environmental Sciences building.
Some residents have expressed concern over the potential for degradation of the historic lawn, but Johnson assured attendees at the City Council Street Committee meeting Tuesday night that the historic grounds would be preserved and restored once the construction is complete.
“When we are finished, we will restore the wall, we will take up the road, we will go back and re-sod and replant,” he said.
Johnson said that the university has also been in talks with the City of Fayetteville about potentially removing about 15 on-street parking spaces along Lafayette Street from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the first year of the construction project, but that no decision on the issue has been reached.
“It’s just discussions at this point,” Johnson said.
Preservationist Paula Marinoni, who lives in the neighborhood and who organized a protest of the project on May 22, seemed satisfied with the university’s efforts to restore the historic grounds, but still remains opposed to the project for other reasons.
“The alumni, I think, will be shocked and appalled when they see this,” Marinoni told us on Tuesday. “That area is an asset to this city, the university, and the state of Arkansas, and the lack of appreciation of this particular asset; the fact they think they can treat it like a tinker-toy, really misses the mark.”
Marinoni also expressed concern over the routing of the construction vehicles through the Lafayette neighborhood, as well as wear-and-tear on the Lafayette bridge.
“The trucks will be running into the night, and they’ll restart at 5 a.m., so that means no sleep,” she said. “On the old bridge, Don (Marr) said they inspected it, and the weight limit is still adequate, but Robert Scoggin from the Arkansas Highway Department said the wear-and-tear on the bridge could be a concern.”
University officials, however, maintain that the Lafayette access plan is the most feasible option.
“We value this campus as much or more than anyone here, or anyone around,” said Johnson. “There are no real perfect solutions. We think this is probably the most elegant. It does minimal damage, it’s temporary damage, and we will restore it to even a better condition once we’re finished.”