Capital construction efforts to improve Blacksburg campus accessibility to begin in February
Construction on the first of a series of high-priority mobility and accessibility improvements will begin on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus in February.
Guided by key elements of the campus master plan - including the award-winning green links and infinite loop - this capital project consisting of three priorities highlighted in the life, health, safety, accessibility, and code compliance category of Virginia Tech’s 2018-24 Capital Outlay Plan will improve mobility, access, inclusion, and collaboration in some of the Blacksburg campus’ most heavily traversed areas.
“Ensuring accessibility across the campus environment is critical not just to the long-term success of Virginia Tech and its service to the commonwealth, but to the daily interactions of thousands of Hokies traversing campus,” said Assistant Vice President for Planning and University Architect Liza Morris. “These projects are crucial components of a larger solution set which aims to create new, or link existing, accessible routes in this topographically challenged area of campus.”
The first priority of the series of accessibility improvements will draw on universal design principles to create an accessible pathway in the North Academic District using two interconnected 24/7-access elevator towers. One elevator tower will be located at the north side of Derring Hall, transporting users from the Perry Street level of campus to the Derring and Cowgill Hall intermediate level. A second elevator tower at the northwest side of G. Burke Johnston Student Center takes users from the intermediate level to the Burruss Hall level and Burchard Plaza.
The towers feature precast concrete bases with opportunities for heraldry. Large windows featuring opaque and semi-opaque glazing, metal panels, and glazed railings sit on top of each base and will be back-lit during evening hours to create a “lantern effect” that will aid passersby in recognizing the availability of elevators to access the various levels described above. Hokie Stone elements will be incorporated in the surrounding landscape.
The pair of elevator towers will help further develop the campus master plan’s central green link, an accessible landscape corridor with slopes of 5 percent or less, that originates at the Data and Decision Sciences Building, through the North Academic District to the Drillfield, and with future improvements will ultimately reach Cassell Coliseum via the Quillen Spirit Plaza.
The remaining mobility and accessibility priorities include two additional Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant pathways via the green links system from the Multi-Modal Transit Facility to Cowgill Hall, and further connect on the east side of Burruss Hall to the Drillfield, and from the Drillfield to Holden Hall.
“This project is a significant win for furthering access for all members of the university community,'' said Associate Vice President for Equity and Accessibility Kelly Oaks. “With a 150-year-old campus, there’s a lot of work to be done to further enhance physical accessibility. This is a critical milestone toward fostering inclusivity across all of our spaces.”
The university received authorization for three life, health, safety, accessibility, and compliance project priorities from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Construction on this first priority is the initial effort to bring this vision to fruition, and the other priorities will advance under future efforts that are currently under design and will be constructed at a later date.
Additional efforts to foster a more inclusive and accessible physical and digital environment at Virginia Tech continue to be top of mind for the Campus Accessibility Working Group.
Established in 2018, the working group - leveraging a transparent and transdisciplinary approach - has identified opportunities and solutions that advance university accessibility in a collaborative and coordinated manner across multiple divisions and work streams including:
- Development and testing of a new interactive campus map
- Launch of the cloud-based PDF PREP software
- Identification of a consultant for recommending strategies to increase the number of all-gender restrooms on the Blacksburg campus
- Hiring of Section 508 Compliance and Digital Accessibility Officer Scott Chandler
- Completion or progress toward completion on 10 physical accessibility improvement projects
The group draws upon expertise, programming, and support from the Office for Equity and Accessibility; Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies's Accessible Technologies; IT Procurement and Licensing Solutions; Inclusion and Diversity; Human Resources; Student Affairs; Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; Communications and Marketing; and more, along with frequent input from stakeholders including the Accessibility Network at Virginia Tech, the Disability Alliance, Disability Caucus, and employee and student governance groups to implement ADA compliance and accessibility-related projects.
“Universitywide efforts such as those led by the Campus Accessibility Working Group to make Virginia Tech a welcoming and inclusive place for all are critical toward achieving our Beyond Boundaries vision,” said Vice President for Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities Chris Kiwus. “The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities is proud to support the development of these tangible commitments toward improving accessibility.”
Construction on the elevator towers is targeted to be complete in early spring 2024. The towers will join five other closely coordinated active capital projects in the North Academic District including Hitt Hall, Multi-Modal Transit Facility, Undergraduate Science Laboratory Building, Data and Decision Sciences Building, and the New Business Building (currently under design).
As construction commences, updates - including impacts to accessible and pedestrian routes - will be shared via VTx.