The Catholic University of America

Dec. 7, 2011

Master Plan: Big Changes for Catholic University Campus

  Master plan photo 1

Kevin Petersen, senior associate of Ayers Saint Gross, outlines Catholic University's proposed long-range Master Plan at a Dec. 5 town hall meeting in Caldwell Hall auditorium.

Catholic University is envisioning big changes to its campus. According to the proposed long-range Master Plan, the University hopes to replace a number of its campus streets with elegant walking paths; build villages of residence halls centered on a chapel; and substitute green spaces for parking lots that distract from its historic buildings.

The plan was presented in a town hall meeting at Caldwell Hall auditorium on Dec. 5. About 75 students, faculty, and staff attended.

Cathy Wood, vice president for finance and treasurer, is heading the Master Plan project, in consultation with architects from Ayers Saint Gross and members of the University and the neighboring community. The Master Plan Steering Committee and Master Plan Resource Panel — composed of students, faculty, staff, and outside professionals — began revising the plan more than a year ago.

The government of the District of Columbia requires all colleges and universities within its borders to maintain a long-range, general plan for their facilities that must be revised every 10 years. Catholic University’s last one was approved by the D.C. Zoning Board in 2002.

The new, 15-year Master Plan maps out changes to the physical layout of campus to help the University accomplish its four biggest priorities for the next 10 years — goals set forth in the University’s Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is scheduled for final approval by the Board of Trustees at its Dec. 13 meeting. The board also will vote on a recommendation to approve submission of the Master Plan to the District of Columbia Zoning Commission.

The Master Plan proposes a number of changes to the campus — including the addition of new “sacramental and contemplative spaces” and residence halls organized around chapels, which also will add to a “sense of community,” Kevin Petersen, senior associate of Ayers Saint Gross said during his 40-minute review of the plan.

Master plan photo 2  

Barry Yatt, School of Architecture and Planning associate dean for undergraduate studies
and professor, comments on the Master Plan.


Along those lines, there are plans to “tie” the campus together by connecting its varied parts by a “green network of spaces,” said Petersen. Given the “eclectic” architecture of campus buildings, Petersen said that the way to “hold the campus together” is through “coherent landscape” that includes “consistent paths and benches.” Some of the asphalt lots and streets on campus are to be replaced by grass, large canopy trees, and uniform walkways, and other streets designated most of the day only for pedestrians, emergency or service vehicles, and drivers with special needs. This plan also enhances the “pastoral” quality of the campus, Petersen noted, and helps restore a focus to the most “iconic” buildings like Caldwell, McMahon, and the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, which are now “surrounded by cars, roads, and parking.”

At the same time, new buildings are slated to better “frame” Caldwell, and a new road, based on an already existing road and exit on North Capitol Street, is proposed to direct drivers through West Campus to the “formal core” of campus at Caldwell, Petersen explained. The “green campus drive” is designed to mirror Duke University’s formal entrance through its adjacent forest.

And to further distinguish the borders of the campus, there are plans for renovating and widening the sidewalks adjacent to Michigan Avenue. A line of trees and a low stone wall will help build a better environment “for everybody,” said Petersen.

The Master Plan’s proposed dramatic changes include the following: a new student activities building to supplement the Pryzbyla Center; a new performing arts building near Hartke Theater; a trade of the McMahon parking lot for temporary surface parking on West Campus and the extension of the law school garage in the direction of Pangborn Hall; the filling-in of the “historic wall” of the University buildings along Michigan Avenue with a new one situated between O’Connell and Maloney Halls; the establishment of a 24-hour facility near the Brookland-CUA Metrorail station; and the removal of the trailers and Centennial Village complex and their replacement with new residence halls near Opus, Curley, and Marist Halls. Marist would be renovated to house “living-learning” classrooms and other facilities on its ground floor and student rooms on upper floors.

Wood explained that the Master Plan sets forth a vision for the University’s evolution but financing and development (fundraising) plans will need to be completed so that elements of the Master Plan can be gradually implemented.

During a 40-minute Q-and-A period, more than a dozen questioners spoke on a variety of topics — from shuttle service to the current lack of an “official” entrance to campus — that are addressed by the plan. Several of those who commented were faculty members from the School of Architecture and Planning. One of them called the proposed Master Plan “highly intelligent;” another praised it as “inspiring.”

The Master Plan can be viewed at


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