A new and improved MU

You're not in Kansas (or whatever your hometown is) anymore.

With a new school year comes new classes, new living arrangements and a major adjustment from the idyll of summer to the busy pace of college life. Add to that the changes that have occurred here while you were away, and life can get downright complicated. The opening of two residence halls, more parking spaces and the pedestrian-only part of Rollins Street are new this fall. Here you will find a compilation of everything you need to keep up-to-date on changes at MU and in Columbia.

Changes to student parking on campus

When construction began on the Brady Commons expansion project this summer, some changes to parking also occurred.

"When changes like this happen, some people are surprised, but really it was about four years ago when it was agreed this would take place," said Jim Joy, director of MU Parking and Transportation Services.

The Brady construction means there are about 130 parking meters missing from what was the Hitt Street Vista parking lot, located between Brady Commons and Hitt Street. But about 120 new metered spots have been added to campus to replace the Brady spaces. The new parking lot sits on the site of the former Natatorium, which was demolished earlier this year.

"Basically we just traded spots," Joy said.

These metered spaces will remain at the corner of Rollins Street and Maryland Avenue until final plans are made for the site.

Also near Brady Commons, Parking and Transportation Services has added a lot containing 20 handicapped spaces close to the construction between Ellis Library and Brady Commons. Joy anticipates that the new parking lot will remain throughout the duration of the four-year construction project as well as after it is completed.

With the addition of two residence halls, there has also been some additional parking added, though none near the College Avenue Housing Complex. About 90 spaces were added to a lot adjacent to the Southwest Campus Housing Complex.

A commuter lot near the nuclear reactor received seal coating and new lights.

Joy also said his department has plans to build another parking garage south of Virginia Avenue Housing and the hospital. He anticipates construction of this parking structure to start in summer 2007.

Closure of Rollins for pedestrians during the day

For the next two semesters, the section of Rollins Street between Hitt Street and Missouri Avenue will be closed from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The closing is due in part to the construction going on at Brady Commons, said Missouri Students Association President John Andersen.

Andersen, who authored the original bill for the project, said the official groundbreaking for Brady will not begin until Oct. 20.

There will be two phases in the construction. The first will be an expansion of Brady Commons, taking up the south side of the Brady parking area, and the second will be a renovation of the current Brady Commons area.

Rollins Street is owned by the city, so closing the street required permission from the Columbia City Council, which originally resisted the plan. Though many believe the closing of the road makes the busy area of Brady Commons safer, there are some who don't see the need.

"It could provide safety from an anecdotal perspective, but there hasn't been any real data on safety problems in that area," said Richard Stone, a city traffic engineer.

Phil Shocklee, the Campus Facilities spokesman, said an electronic message board on the street warned on-campus drivers one week prior to the closing, but he received no complaints.

But car traffic is funneled to streets that are already busy, including Providence Road and College Avenue, Stone said.

"There are some traffic issues created by this, especially along Elm Street, Providence and College," he said. "We are experiencing problems or differences as to how they've been handled in the past."

Stone said the city would continue to monitor the road closing but that no permanent decisions have been made, adding that the closure was only for a two-semester trial period.

"There's been some request to possibly include closing the road permanently, but that has not been granted," Stone said.

Removal of the canopy from downtown Columbia

Downtown Columbia is looking a bit different these days.

The streets seem wider and more inviting after the removal of the grey, concrete canopy that covered the sidewalks on Broadway.

Carrie Gartner, the director of the Columbia Special Business District, said she was "very pleased" with the results of the project.

The property owners and merchants paid for the job because the canopy was considered part of each building owners property, Gartner said. They also had to deal with eight weeks of demolition while the canopy was taken down.

"I'm proud of them," Gartner said. "We even finished a little bit earlier than expected."

The goal was to remove the canopies before an Aug. 15 deadline so a state committee could consider an application for Columbia to be placed on Missouri's register of historic districts. This application was approved, paving the way for the center of downtown to become a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district would comprise 102 buildings that are 50 years old and older in the area that "radiates out of Ninth (Street) and Broadway," Gartner said.

Although the canopy has not been down for long, Gartner said the feedback from business owners has been positive so far.

"More restaurants have been pulling tables out onto the sidewalks," she said.

Some property owners are even planning renovations of their buildings that will entitle them to state and federal tax credits because of their national historic status. The businesses would not have been able to do this while the canopy was in place because it was built in the past 50 years, which made those buildings ineligible for historic status.

"The canopies were originally put up because it was thought that the buildings looked too different," Gartner said. "But college students and other people really enjoy going in unique stores and people really like that kind of unique architecture."

New residence halls

The beginning of this school year also brought with it the opening of two new residence halls on campus: the Southwest Campus Housing Complex and the College Avenue Housing Complex. Combined, these house approximately 1,000 students.

"Overall, things have gone really well with the opening," said Brandi Herrman-Rose, MU Residential Life's coordinator of marketing and publications. "Whenever you open new buildings, there are always going to be some kinks, and you have to live in the buildings for a while to find out about them, but so far the reception from students has been really positive."

Herrman-Rose cites amenities such as the privacy offered by an unprecedented number of single rooms as a reason for the positive feedback.

"Students today have, for the most part, never shared a bedroom or even a bathroom with a sibling, so there's an expectation on the part of incoming students because they've lived their whole lives with a certain amount of privacy," Herrman-Rose said.

The layout of the new residence halls was in part determined by an extensive study of students' desires and thoughts about housing that was begun by MU almost ten years ago.

Construction of these new buildings went as planned with no major setbacks, she said, though a fire in April damaged some of the trusses in the north hall of the Southwest complex.

"The thing about that fire that was amazing was that we lost maybe a week's worth of time," Herrman-Rose said. "The manufacturer of the trusses just stopped everything and did our order over a weekend. The new trusses were installed and we were back on schedule. It really it didn't set us back at all."

— Reporter Robert Naquin contributed to this report.

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