The Future of Campus
The long-range vision for the U of M Twin Cities campus could transform the way students learn and how the University serves Minnesota.
For University of Minnesota alumni, memories are embedded in the places where we spent our time: late nights socializing in Sanford Hall; breakfasts at Al’s; basketball games in the Barn. There are the technicolor fall days on the Northrop Mall, the shivery winter walks across the Washington Avenue Bridge, the reflection of sunlight off the cladding of the Weisman Art Museum. It’s a campus that is made all the more unique by its setting in two large American cities.
As a land grant university, the University of Minnesota has a commitment not just to the larger community, but also to the very buildings whose bricks and mortar hold so many years of student, faculty, and staff stories. But it must also look to the future to ensure that in 10, 50, or even 100 years, the Twin Cities campus remains a place where people want to create new memories and have the facilities to develop tomorrow’s scientific, intellectual, and cultural breakthroughs.
That’s why, in 2021, a broad-based campus planning committee delivered an ambitious, updated Twin Cities Campus Plan that it calls a “vision for the future” in terms of potential growth, expansion, and renovation on campus. The Board of Regents approved the updated plan in December 2021.
The Big Ideas
The campus plan is informed by 10 “big ideas” that build on existing conditions and goals for change. The big ideas emerged from consultation, surveys, and analysis carried out during the planning process. They represent goals, actions, and opportunities for enhancing the campus and aspirations for the future.
• Create a more inclusive campus
• Enrich the student experience
• Support patient care and the provider experience in health services
• Promote innovation through partnership development
• Make campus easier to navigate and prioritize pedestrian, bicycle, and transit circulation
• Align future development with the public realm framework
• Enhance financial resiliency
• Engage the river
• Reinvest in the campus core
• Use land and resources sustainably
The goal of the plan is to establish short- and long-term priorities to determine how the campus might change in the future. It’s a sprawling roadmap that combines sustainability with large-scale projects that touch wide swaths of the U of M’s 1,150 acres, from the area along Washington Avenue that currently houses the University’s hospital and medical school to parts of the campus in St. Paul.
The document intends to “serve as a framework to guide incremental change, [as] a tool to evaluate future development proposals, and [to] inform the public of the University’s aspirations.”
The outlined implementation falls into two time horizons of between 1-10 years (or “near-term”) and 10+ years (or “longterm”). In addition, the plan’s recommendations are based on the Board of Regents’ target of 33,000 undergraduates at the Twin Cities campus by 2030, and assumptions that the graduate student population will remain steady.
Because the document is a long-term plan, it’s likely not everything envisioned will come to pass or in the time frame mentioned, but it does offer a deep look into how the Twin Cities campus may evolve in the future.
“Our goal is to make our spaces beyond simply functional; [it’s] to make them welcoming and accessible to every member of our community,” says Rachel T. A. Croson, the University’s executive vice president and provost. “Our institution attracts world-class thinkers who need state-of-the-art labs and research facilities, outstanding students who need modern classrooms and social spaces, and committed staff who need workspaces that enhance their productivity. We rely on accessible design principles and seek to embrace and inspire, as well as to serve, those who live and work on our campus.”
On the following pages, we highlight a few of the details in the report to provide a glimpse of how the U of M Twin Cities campus may change down the line.
Reinvesting in the Core
When the most historic U of M buildings were built in the 1880s, the Twin Cities campus was centered around the Knoll—the shaded green space just on the other side of University Avenue, between Eddy Hall and Peik Hall. By 1910, the campus expanded southward to incorporate architect Cass Gilbert’s master plan for the neoclassical grandeur that is the Northrop Mall.
Today, many of the University’s historic buildings are in need of internal updates. “You walk in some of them and realize they haven’t been touched in 30 years,” says Monique MacKenzie, the U of M’s director of campus and capital planning. “We need to reinvest in that historic fabric, which we are stewards of.”
MacKenzie points to the successful overhaul of Pillsbury Hall, the 1889 Romanesque sandstone castle that was recently renovated to become the new home of the English department. Today, it’s a model for future updates in that it highlights the building’s historic bones, while embracing 21st century innovation, including flexible classrooms, comfortable lounge spaces, and top-floor gathering spaces for readings and other public events.
The most significant change in land use patterns envisioned on the East Bank will be between the Health Sciences district and the relocation of the hospital on Huron Boulevard. Clinical research space, as well as outpatient care, is part of the planned renewal. Replacement of Centennial and Territorial Halls is planned along East River Parkway with access from Essex Street Southeast.
From the Twin Cities Campus Plan Update
Likewise, the Legislature’s 2023 bonding bill allocated $92.6 million to renovate and put an addition on Fraser Hall, which was built in 1928 as a law school. (See accompanying story "A New Formula for Chemistry.") Upgrades will include 18 chemistry labs, student collaboration spaces, and prep storage spaces. In addition to the allocated legislative funding, the University will cover a portion of the $138.9 million project, with the rest coming from donations.
The master plan also calls for maintenance and improvements to older buildings, including several that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The plan further recommends demolishing buildings including Peik Hall, Peik Gym, and Williamson Hall, which are in poor repair.
At its June 2023 meeting, the Board of Regents approved a plan for Athletics to construct a new gymnastics performance center in the Athletes Village footprint, to allow student-athletes to study, train, eat, and recover all in one location. Construction on the $15.5 million East Bank gymnastics facility will start in March 2024 and be completed by January 2025. The facility will be on the south side of the department's indoor football field.
That general area will also eventually include a repurposed “mobility hub,” where people can enter and exit campus and connect to public transportation, reflecting the long-range plan’s commitment to sustainability and accessibility. This past year, the University gave all students universal transit passes. Plans are underway to also make them available to all faculty and staff, greatly reducing the need to drive to campus or park.
A Room With a View
A reimagined University housing neighborhood is proposed along East River Parkway—from the Comstock–Yudoff Hall area to Oak Street. Redevelopment in this area will be possible once programs in the Mayo building, Masonic Cancer Center, University Hospital, and other medical-related facilities relocate to the proposed Health Sciences district along Huron Boulevard.
From the Twin Cities Campus Plan Update
The idea of a less car-dependent campus would be further enhanced by the demolition of Williamson Hall, which would both enhance the current Jones-Folwell Quad and make way for a separate hub to accommodate a reality of our modern world: deliveries from Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and food services. It would connect to the Gopher Way and could also house a bike share station.
“We can make the experience better for students when we connect living and community and recreation and walking and biking,” says Myron Frans, the U of M’s senior vice president for finance and operations. “One of the things we want to try to do is reduce the amount of parking . . . [and also reduce] all these deliveries that come. How do we get [packages] to an office without having [trucks] driving around on campus?”
Frans says the University is also working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to reengineer how people get to campus from I-94, improving congestion on Huron Boulevard.
A New Home for Health Sciences
The most dramatic proposition for the East Bank is the creation of a new Health Sciences and Clinical Campus, which would include demolishing and relocating the hospital and medical school, which are outdated. This zone would also include new clinical care ambulatory sites, and research facilities for walk-in patients who are participating in clinical trials. The changes would stretch from Oak Street to south of Washington Avenue and over to Huron Boulevard, and would border a new innovation zone (see sidebar "In the Mix" below). They will also enhance the work currently taking place in the Health Sciences Education Center, which opened in 2019 and is one of the most comprehensive interprofessional education facilities in the country.
To make way for this complex, the long-term plan calls for the “superblock” of student housing—Centennial, Frontier, Pioneer, and Territorial Halls—to eventually be demolished and rebuilt on the slope down to the Mississippi River, thus enhancing students’ connection to the iconic waterway that runs through campus.
“The most exciting piece [of the plan] is this notion of residential housing along the river,” says Marc Partridge (M.A. ’82), the U of M's architect and design director. “I think the real value of a campus is the physical campus, and people want to be with people. There’s a culture at the University that I think you only get by being there physically.”
The financing for these changes will of course determine when and if they are completed, and differs depending on the type of project. The University funds all auxiliary buildings—housing, athletic buildings, student unions, and recreation centers. In April 2022, the Regents approved the sale of $500 million of debt in 30-year, interest-only bonds, which allows the University to generate savings and free up cash to spend on building projects. Infrastructure projects—including roofing, heating and air conditioning systems, disability access, as well as plans to renovate the Washington Avenue Bridge—are financed through the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement Funding (HEAPR) statute, which comes from the state. (See sidebar at left.)
Other projects also depend largely on the legislature. For example, the state paid for two-thirds of the Pillsbury Hall renovation, and the University (and generous private donors) paid for the other third. The state also paid for two-thirds of the new Campbell Hall Institute for Child Development, while the remaining funds were provided by donors. For the Chemistry Teaching Laboratory Building (Fraser Hall), the state will pay two-thirds of the cost and the remaining third will be paid for by the University. (The College of Science and Engineering will pay the principal and interest over 20 years on the University’s third.)
Financing planned changes to the hospital area will be more complex. Given that the Fairview Health Services merger with South Dakota-based Sanford Health was called off in late July, this situation continues to evolve.
And of course, long-range planning is subject to many other factors. Projects go in and out of favor, depending on the priorities of new administrations and the legislature. “When you talk about a campus plan now, you’re saying, ‘What are all those pieces that have to fit to result in a plan that might seem really pie-in-the-sky now?’” says Brian Swanson, assistant vice president for finance and systems. “And you don’t know exactly how you’re going to do it, but [you do know] where you want to go. And each generation that comes through kind of bites off the next piece of that and keeps the whole picture moving.”
Want even more insight into the U of M's future? You can read the entire 156-page Twin Cities Campus Master Plan at cpm.umn.edu.