The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Board retains downtown campus design

By Atie Hudson-Martinez/feature editor

Over the summer, a controversy surrounding the design of the new downtown campus emerged that brought some areas of construction to a standstill and made the future of the project uncertain.

WHAT HAPPENED

Three years into the design and construction process, some prominent members of the downtown community voiced concerns about the design of the new campus.

Fort Worth billionaire Ed Bass, whose office borders the new downtown campus, said the site of a sunken plaza planned as an entryway into the college would provide a great opportunity to create a public gathering place for the entire community. He enlisted the support of Fort Worth Councilwoman Wendy Davis and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, among others.

Through Downtown Inc., Bass arranged a $28,000 workshop for downtown business leaders to hear several architects from around the U.S. give critiques of the plaza’s current design and offer recommendations. Their suggestions included improving the appearance of Belknap Street, canceling the planned Belknap bridge over the entryway and raising the plaza to ground level.

The board promised to give careful consideration to these recommendations and scheduled a series of open meetings where community and stakeholders could speak freely about the campus design.

THE PUBLIC MEETING

The first meeting, July 10, was a virtual who’s who of downtown Fort Worth development. It was attended by more than 150 people, and the board heard from dozens of people on opposite sides of the debate.

Bing Thom, the Canadian architect designing the new campus, gave a detailed presentation and addressed each of the concerns produced at the workshop.

Thom stood by his original plans and cited the reasoning behind the plaza’s design. He explained the difficulties in working with this particular piece of terrain, which has drop-offs of up to 80 feet in some places.

Bass and others argued that sunken plazas have proved unsuccessful in other cities as a popular gathering place for people, but a retired TCC security officer and others expressed concerns that opening this area up to the general public might present security concerns and liability issues for the college.

J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, argued that the location of the sunken plaza is best suited to providing an entrance to the college and not an open public square.

Granger said that the Sundance Square parking area, owned by Bass, would be a much more suitable location for a public plaza because it is bordered by shops, restaurants and a Barnes & Noble with movie theaters and other destinations nearby.

Statements were read from Mayor Mike Moncrief, who urged the board to consider concerns of the downtown community, and from Wendy Davis, who said that the current design plan “would not contribute to the vibrancy of downtown.”

During the sessions, board members said they would take note of each and every suggestion from the public meetings, compile dozens of e-mails and phone calls about the issue and take time to consider everything before announcing their final decision.

THE DECISION

Approximately 60 citizens and representatives from several different media outlets, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Channel 8 news, attended the July 24 special meeting.

The board heard from the head of the construction team and Thom, who suggested making some minor changes to improve the plaza while leaving the original plan mostly intact.

Bass had said raising the plaza to ground level would save the college money, but the head contractors on the project and Chancellor Leonardo de la Garza said changing the plans this far into construction would be disastrous.

Contractors said concrete and support beams already in place would have

to be removed and replaced and the entire infrastructure of the design would be compromised. They said the proposed changes would push the opening date back 12-18 months and would end up costing TCC tens of millions of dollars with no apparent benefit to the college.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board voted unanimously to proceed with the original design plan and thanked the community for its involvement in the decision-making process.

THE AFTERMATH

Ed Bass did not attend the July 24 meeting, but he did issue a statement through his publicist the next morning.

“ I regret that the college has chosen to ignore the concerns of the downtown community and the advice of those with knowledge and experience in building in the urban setting,” he said. “The college administration was never receptive to the workshop process and resisted hearing any of the advice it generated. In the end, they had no more concern for their downtown neighbors than they have for the taxpayers.”

The construction team has continued through the process of securing the required building permits to proceed with the construction of the new campus as designed by the original architect.

Visible progress on the new campus is evident, and excavation under Belknap Street, where a support bridge is being built, has begun.

The downtown campus is set to open its doors for the spring 2010 semester.

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