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Carnegie Mellon grad student growth driving plans for even denser campus

Carnegie Mellon University is looking to replace, renovate and develop new campus buildings over the next 10 years to meet the needs of a changing student body and a denser campus, university officials told Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission during a July 12 briefing on its new institutional master plan.

Under the proposed plan, or IMP, CMU is seeking to connect its north campus and an area around Craig Street to the campus’ historic center, develop the entrance to campus on Forbes and Morewood avenues, improve the quality of housing and recreational areas and add on-campus classroom space, among other goals.

The briefing was the first of two for the plan, according to the Department of City Planning. The city’s zoning code requires large institutions with sizable land holdings, like CMU, to submit IMPs every 10 years.

CMU has seen its number of graduate and doctoral students grow in the last 20 years to surpass its undergraduate student population, and the university expects that its efforts to densify campus in response to this growth will create future demands for campus space, according to the IMP.

The university’s main campus includes parts of the Squirrel Hill North, Shadyside and North Oakland neighborhoods.

The briefing “helps us to understand why this plan, this physical process, might be growing, and what that means,” Commissioner Becky Mingo said during the meeting.

There are 20 development sites included within the 10-year plan, and half are carried over from CMU’s previous master plan.

In the campus core, the university’s expansion plans focus on repurposing existing structures and replacing older or “inefficient” buildings, including Cyert and Warner halls, which would become the site of a future academic building. CMU is proposing to replace Donner House, a four-floor dorm, with up to three mixed-use buildings.

The university is looking to develop 20 sites in the next 10 years under its latest institutional master plan. (Screenshot)

The university aims to add new academic, residential and research buildings around Tepper Quad on its north campus. CMU plans to develop mixed-use buildings in the area, including a proposed eight-story building on the site of an existing parking garage that would feature office and research space and housing with up to 500 beds.

CMU is also proposing a reconfiguration of its Greek Quad to add denser student housing. Bob Reppe, CMU’s senior director of planning and design, said the university has floated townhome-style housing, with Greek housing on the bottom floors, more traditional student housing on the upper floors and separate entrances.

“Greek life will still continue to be a part of campus,” Reppe said.

Among its plans for the area around Craig Street, the university is proposing the replacement of Whitfield Hall with a residential building that includes parking and office space, as well as the development of a new multi-story, mixed-use academic building near Museum Drive. The university intends to work with its partners in the neighborhood to ensure its development improves the area’s character, the plan states.

“We are not a university that is kind of isolated in the middle of nowhere, we are obviously part of an urban context,” Reppe said.

Commissioner Holly Dick asked if the university was planning to keep commercial first-floor space in its plans for the Craig Street area. Reppe said the university is planning to include ground-floor activities, including a restaurant, on two of the five development sites. CMU intends to expand an academic building, renovate a residential building and replace another on the remaining three development sites.

The university is proposing to rezone eight properties in three areas — Neville at 5th, Devonshire Road and Forbes at Margaret Morrison — to fall within the Educational/Medical Institutional District. None of the eight properties are subject to proposed development under the proposed IMP.

CMU has also developed plans to improve mobility under the IMP. The university is seeking to widen the sidewalks on the Forbes Avenue Junction Hollow Bridge, add a cycle track along Morewood Avenue from Forbes to Fifth avenues and reconfigure Frew Street into a one-way street with parallel parking, among other proposals.

The university would like to see 19% of its employees continue to walk to work while decreasing the percentage of those who commute alone from 38% to 30%, according to the IMP. CMU is also looking to implement remote work programs so that 5% of employees can choose to work from home.

CMU began the planning process for the latest IMP in January 2020. It held monthly meetings for a year with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, gave two presentations in 2021 to each registered community organization surrounding campus and held two town halls that year with the campus community, according to the IMP.

“I appreciate the large number of community meetings that you have engaged in,” Mingo said. “I think it’s very thoughtful.”

The commission will hear a second briefing on the project on July 26, which Reppe said will focus on the mobility, infrastructure and neighborhood engagement aspects of the plan. A briefing and action on the plan, with opportunity for public comment, is set to take place in September.

Emma Folts covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@publicsource.org.

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