Campus master plan could reshape the physical spaces at SJSU for years to come

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Before the pandemic hit early last year and turned all of our lives topsy-turvy, some readers might recall that I had been taking a deep dive into our Transformation 2030 strategic plan. In particular, I had written blog posts about four of the five goals laid out in Transformation 2030

I am happy now to address Goal #5, the final goal from Transformation 2030 —“Renew and Rebuild”—and, in particular, a cornerstone of that goal: the campus master planning process that now is in its early stages. Our campus master plan is a major undertaking and will address the main and south campuses and all SJSU related properties. I encourage everyone to visit our campus master plan Virtual Open House, available through March 31, to learn more.

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A campus master plan is not unique to SJSU. Each of the CSU campuses is required to have one, and they can be found on campuses across the nation. It is one of the most critical documents we produce, as it lays out our future vision of the physical campus, guides its development and provides a roadmap for expansion. A sound campus master plan is about more than physical spaces and buildings; it provides us with a useful vocabulary for how we talk about circulation, wayfinding, accessibility and other issues that collectively help to create a cohesive sense of place.

A university’s master plan is only as good as the broader goals for its campus. An effective campus master plan at SJSU must align well, for example, with the future academic, student support and other programs we envision, as well as enrollment objectives and other campus priorities. All of those things could very well manifest themselves in physical improvements, adjustments in how we utilize existing space, the need for more space and the facilities we then choose to develop.

Everything I have described would pose a challenge under normal circumstances, but COVID-19 and the new environment that we are all experiencing could make our campus master planning even more daunting! For sure, the pandemic adds a different lens to the process and informs many of the questions that will be asked of campus community members and topics the campus master plan will explore. Our Facilities Development and Operations team, led by Traci Ferdolage, Ashraf Fouad and Chia Tsai, are doing a great job developing a process that will be inclusive, collaborative and engaging.

Though efficient use of resources and funds has always been an issue we prioritize at SJSU, COVID-19 has accelerated our thinking dramatically. The crisis, for example, has demonstrated the need to envision and develop spaces that create community rather than spaces that may be isolating; challenges like this must be overcome if we are to continue creating dynamic learning and student-focused environments. As we begin to engage students, faculty, staff and others on the campus master plan, we expect they will offer even more insight as to how we go about the redevelopment of existing facilities and programmatic spaces.

Another example of how COVID-19 has impacted our thinking involves office spaces for faculty and staff. We now have an opportunity to re-envision what types of environments faculty need to best support our teaching mission and other important scholarly and creative endeavors.

The pandemic is offering concrete evidence that we may not, in the future, require as much office space as we have needed previously. This, too, could be reflected in the campus master plan and help us to envision how we will work and study on campus over the next 20 years.

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I mentioned earlier the collaborative nature of our campus master planning process, which is co-chaired by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Vincent Del Casino and Vice President for Administration and Finance Charlie Faas, and indeed that is a signature feature of our approach.

The first advisory committee meeting—featuring more than 20 stakeholders—took place this past September 2020. Since that time, the planning team has conducted more than 20 in-depth stakeholder interviews, launched the new campus master plan website and are hosting a variety of engagement opportunities. The overall process will include additional surveys, in-depth interviews, workshops, brainstorming and other creative tools to inspire people to get involved.

Collaborations with faculty and students will be particularly important in helping to inform the process. Graduate students in one of our planning department’s geographic information science classes, for example, already have contributed with mapping and data collection, and I anticipate more of this kind of classroom involvement as the planning process unfolds.

There is no doubt, however, that vibrant participation from our campus stakeholders—while critical—will be challenging. Frankly, it can be difficult getting people excited about a plan that will not be fully realized for more than a decade!

But make no mistake: the campus master plan is a vital component of our university’s civic engagement. Though today’s SJSU students won’t be studying or living on campus in 20 years, they may very well be city councilmembers, local residents or business owners, and thus feel a personal stake in how the campus develops over time. The same may be said of our current faculty and staff! So I hope all members of SJSU will consider how they might contribute to the campus master planning process.

In addition to our FD&O team, we have an excellent campus planning team working with us, including Field Paoli Architects and Urban Field Studio, both based in San Francisco, and Dalton Education Associates, whose broad experience in higher education includes campus planning for many CSU campuses. I have a soft spot in my heart for the design professions, as my own uncle served as president of the American Institute of Architects from 1997-1998! So I fully appreciate the importance of our built environment and the design community’s impact on how we learn, work and live in general.

You will hear much more about our campus master planning process in the coming weeks, months, and yes, years. Though it is, in some ways, a quiet, unassuming process that necessarily takes a great deal of time and effort to develop and thus can get lost in the more visible, everyday excitement of San José State life, our campus master plan is extremely important for the future of our campus. I hope you will join me in getting involved by visiting the campus master plan Virtual Open House and participate in its workshops, then again in future when the opportunity presents itself!