2014 University Commons Programming Plan

A new University Commons, bringing together the campus community by creating opportunities for meaningful engagement among students, faculty, and staff, is a central feature of the 2011 Campus Master Plan. The facility will complete the core campus neighborhood – that historic area bounded by the Quad, Fulford, and the Commons, connected as well to important facilities along University Avenue – and will be experienced by all visitors to and members of the campus community. That experience, whether formed by first impressions, or by the thousandth return to the heart of campus, will demonstrate, in untold ways both tangible and intangible, the University’s vision of a residential community dedicated to liberal education in its broadest sense. No building at Sewanee in recent memory will more clearly express the promise of, and our confidence in, that vision.

Certain University offices and service operations, strategically designed and located within the building, will attract students throughout the day, contributing to a dynamic, active environment. At the same time, spaces for occasional events, for casual recreation, and for planned or serendipitous conversation will draw students, faculty, and staff to engage with each other, both in small groups and as a part of a larger whole. The building will express the University’s commitment to the environment and to sustainability: these values will be incorporated into the design, and the building will reach out to Abbo’s Alley on two sides. In addition to promoting interaction among faculty, staff, and students, the building will serve as a central gathering space for events of up to 500-600 people (standing); provide late night and weekend programming; offer alcohol-free opportunities for student interaction; and assist in recruiting and retaining students.

The University Commons Programming Plan, a preliminary programming plan, was completed in 2013-2014 as a prelude to a competition to select an architect for the project. The University engaged Brailsford & Dunlavey, a project management firm based in Charlotte, NC, to guide the two-stage competition. Twenty-four design firms were pre-qualified, and twelve were invited to participate. In December 2014, seven firms submitted proposals, including statements of qualification, for stage one. The University chose three firms to advance to stage two. In February 2015 the three firms presented concepts to staff and Regents, following which the University selected Centerbrook as the architectural firm for the project.

The 2011 Campus Master Plan identified the Thompson Union site as the preferred site for the Commons. Before proceeding with building design, the University decided to undertake a comprehensive and strategic study of the University Avenue corridor from Georgia Avenue to South Carolina Avenue, guided by Hanbury Evans Wright + Vlattas, the University's campus master planners, in order to determine the site for the Commons and consider the long-term development of the area near the Quad. The Regents have not yet selected the site for the Commons, and will not do so until the University Avenue study has been completed and the costs and benefits of various site options have been carefully weighed.