Monday, May 30, 2016

Strolling on College Avenue

For many visitors, students, and faculty at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), the first signs of spring are always found with the flowering of trees that line College Avenue.  Throughout the institution’s founding and growth, College Ave. has served as an important traffic route and reference point.  Yet, its current configuration of broad sidewalks, colorful plantings, and decorative brick pavers, is the result of a year-long beautification project that started in 2003.  This project would transform a half mile long street into a pedestrian corridor.

Until the 2003 construction project, College Avenue had always functioned as UNCG’s “Main Street.”  At the founding of the school in 1892, the original campus buildings and the home of the College President Charles McIver were built along the contours of the unpaved roadway.  Yet, it was the vision of landscape architect Warren Henry Manning that transformed College Ave.  He envisioned a grand boulevard extending from the railroad tracks to the entrance of Peabody Park.  Manning proposed building faculty housing along College Ave. south of Spring Garden Street and academic buildings north of Spring Garden Street.  With the embrace of this design vision, the school’s rapid expansion and post-World War I building boom was mainly focused on both sides of College Ave.  Student dormitories, academic buildings, and a library were constructed to face the roadway.

As a result of Manning’s plan, the school’s east and west campuses were divided by College Ave.  For safety reasons, the school built a pedestrian overpass for students to cross College Ave. and avoid car traffic.  The first bridge was made of wood and built in the early 1900s.  The wooden structure was eventually replaced with an iron over-pass.  Finally, a concrete bridge was built in 1928.  With the construction of Jackson Library and the closing of Walker Avenue in 1950, the concrete overpass was torn down.  Students now had to cross the busy street at designated cross walks.

In 2000, a $3.1 billion UNC bond referendum was passed by the citizens of North Carolina.  UNCG was allocated $160 million dollars.  These monies were intended to transform the campus and prepare it to meet the educational demands of the 21st century.  From the funds allocated to UNCG, a $6.5 million project was approved to transform College Ave. into pedestrian-friendly space and to effectively reconnect the east and west portions of the campus. 

The project would encompass an area from Spring Garden Street to the Music Building on West Market Street.  Work began in 2003 and College Ave. was closed to traffic.  The existing sidewalks and pavement were removed.  When students returned for the 2003 fall term, they encountered huge piles of concrete and heavy machinery.  Temporary walkways were built to move students through the construction zone.  As construction progressed, work was repeatedly delayed as a result of heavy rain and several unexpected “discoveries.”  Workers were forced to reroute a water main and work around a large electric line.  Additionally, contractors found bridge abutments that had been used in supporting the Walker Ave. Bridge.  Despite these delays, work did move forward on the installation of new lighting and sidewalks, the planting of new trees and shrubs, and the building of ADA accessible pedestrian walkways.  In their efforts to fully connect the campus, the project also included the construction of a new bridge through the Peabody Park area of campus.  Thus, students would now be able to easily walk from Spring Garden Street to the Music Building.

With the completion of the project in late 2003, traffic was now entirely rerouted through the University.  The new walkway was open to cars and trucks only on “move-in” and “move-out” days.  For the rest of the year, College Ave. was intended to be a welcoming pedestrian-friendly space.  It remains so today.

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