For years, current and former UW-Madison students have dealt with unforgiving weather conditions, ranging from 40 mph winds in the dead of winter to triple digit temperatures. As most people from Wisconsin might say, it comes with the territory. There is, however, one season that tends to be overlooked by unsuspecting visitors. Like a reoccurring nightmare, construction on the UW-Madison campus has been a seemingly year-round event for as long as most students can remember.
Whether it is the sight of a new high-rise apartment or renovations to an aging university building, fences guarding bulldozers and piles of debris are a common reality. Although the frequent improvements showcase UW-Madison’s commitment to providing its students and faculty with the best amenities possible, the consistent rattling and banging of equipment can wear on even the most patient supporters. One famous source of such frustration is the construction at Library Mall.
For the past ten years, the area between the UW Memorial Library and Wisconsin Historical Society has been a hub for construction workers. In fact, students that arrived in 2008 never had the chance to see Library Mall without some sort of construction. The major cause of this inconvenience is ongoing utility repairs.
The goal is to make these areas more accessible so that they are a place for people to spend time and relax.
Construction crews have been hard at work over the past few years to take care of ongoing problems with utilities in the area. “We have been doing a lot of utility upgrades in the area, actually all the way down East Campus Mall from Dayton Street to Langdon Street over the past few years,” says Gary Brown, UW Director of Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture.
These improvements will ensure that common problems related to utility failures are only a minor inconvenience. “We now have a walkable utility tunnel this entire length, including under State Street and Library Mall to Langdon Street, that can be serviced in the tunnel, rather than having to dig up all the utilities and repair them when they have a problem,” Brown says.
Despite these improvements, the future of Library Mall remains very much in the balance. Three different design options are being explored with regards to its redevelopment. The “oval design” would create a large oval sidewalk system with a lawn in the middle, similar to what exists today. The iconic Hagenah fountain, located in the heart of Library Mall for years, may be replaced with a more interactive fountain.
The “great lawn design” would create a large rectangular lawn area with larger sidewalks running north and south. A new water feature would also be located along the west face of Memorial Library and replace the Hagenah fountain. Two smaller lawn areas would also be created in front of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Finally, a “historical design” would essentially rebuild the existing configuration with expanded sidewalks to handle the pedestrian and bicycle traffic that flows through Library Mall. The Hagenah fountain would be refurbished, while the existing Class of 1923 Clock Tower would be relocated. This preservationist option would return everything to the status quo of a decade ago, before all the construction in Library Mall began to take place.
In addition to the continuation of the Library Mall construction, the city of Madison, in partnership with UW-Madison, is preparing for construction on the adjacent 700 and 800 blocks of the State Street Mall.
Commonly mistaken as being part of Library Mall, these two blocks serve as the continuation of State Street by running past Memorial Library, the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Mosse Humanities Building. “Even though the university is responsible for Library Mall, and the city is in charge of the 700 and 800 blocks, it is crucial that we work together in order to ensure the entire area functions well,” says Bill Fruhling, AICP Principle Planner for the City of Madison.
The blocks will undergo complete reconstruction including concrete sidewalk, lighting, storm sewer, sanitary sewer and water main improvements. The construction will begin in March 2014 with a tentative end date of fall 2014. Until then, the city of Madison and UW-Madison will continue to collaborate to ensure that Library Mall and the 700 and 800 blocks of State Street are once again a destination for students, alumni, and residents of Madison.
Fruhling describes the partnership between the university and the city of Madison, saying, “We are working closely with the university to improve these two blocks, since they fall at the intersection of two iconic Madison corridors, State Street and East Campus Mall.” He continues, “The goal is to make these areas more accessible so that they are a place for people to spend time and relax.”
As seasons pass and new generations of Badgers continue to trudge through chilling snowstorms and unbearable heat waves, construction on the UW-Madison campus will continue to serve as a constant reminder of the university’s commitment to providing all students with world-class facilities. Although frustration may set in following months of seemingly endless construction projects at Library Mall, like long winter nights, it too will pass in favor brighter days. Brown describes the end results from years of construction at Library Mall: “Library Mall will continue to be a major outdoor gathering area for not only the university, but the Madison community at-large.”