Fairfax Campus Adopts Neighborhood Proposal

Posted: August 3, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

By Dave Andrews

The completion of the latest student housing project in January 2012 will bring the total on-campus resident population at the Fairfax Campus to 6,000, more than doubling the number of resident students from just a decade ago.

This rapid growth recently prompted university officials to adopt a new design that organizes the campus into four, easily identifiable neighborhoods. The goals are to enhance navigation on campus and solidify a sense of community within each neighborhood.

New Neighborhood Names

The names of the four new communities — Aquia, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Roanoke — are references to prominent entrance roads located within each neighborhood.

  • Aquia encompasses everything in the northwest corner of campus, including Rogers and Whitetop (Housing VIIIA) residence halls and the Student Apartments.
  • Rappahannock covers the northeast side of campus, including Chesapeake and Commons.
  • Shenandoah is the southeast corner of campus, which includes Presidents Park, Liberty Square and Potomac Heights.
  • Roanoke is in the southwest corner of campus. The area is expected to be the site of the next large-scale housing project, complete with another dining hall and parking deck.

Jana Hurley, executive director of Housing and Residence Life, sees many benefits to the neighborhood model and says that it has the potential to make a significant impact on the way students live and interact with one another.

“As we approach housing 6,000 students on campus and continue to build more academic buildings and improve roadways and pedestrian paths,” Hurley says, “it is important to make the size and scale of the campus more manageable, especially for those who are new to the university and need help navigating around campus.”

The neighborhood concept originated last year when the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services (OFPS) employed a similar idea during student orientations. OFPS divided the campus into four sections to help new students find their way across campus.

The University Naming Committee wanted to develop the concept further by designating neighborhood names. Todd Rose, associate dean of University Life and member of the Naming Committee, said that the new names “add clarity and uniformity” to a campus that will continue to grow for a number of years.

“If the concept is implemented well, it will provide a new level of ease and direction for visitors, residents and even employees of Mason,” Rose says.  “It also ‘warms’ the campus up, in my opinion. As opposed to just saying you work in a building, one can say that I work in a building in a particular neighborhood.”

Enhanced Information Services

Each of the neighborhoods will include a parking deck, dining hall and fitness facility, in addition to student housing. But equally important will be the presence of a designated help desk within each community to address the specific needs of residents and visitors.

The Office of Housing and Residence Life (OHRL) is finalizing the neighborhood-based organizational structure for the residential buildings and staff. Staff members have been redistributed from their previous locations (York, Chesapeake, TAP, President’s Park and DUCC) into the new neighborhoods.

In each neighborhood, OHRL will continue to offer full-service information desks. When students or visitors have questions or concerns, there will be a local area help desk staffed 24 hours a day with someone who has in-depth knowledge of the specific neighborhood and can better handle questions about its buildings, residence halls and student services.

The neighborhood information desk locations are:

  • Aquia — Northern Neck (Fall 2011); Whitetop (Spring 2012)
  • Rappahannock — Piedmont/Tidewater
  • Shenandoah — Eisenhower

“In years past, it was challenging for our staff to handle questions dealing with concerns from all over campus, especially during large events such as move-in,” Hurley says. “But with information desks that specialize in a particular neighborhood, the students can expect their questions or concerns will be processed much more effectively.”

Sandy Creek Parking Deck Renamed Shenandoah Parking Deck

To align with the other neighborhood names that coordinate with an entrance road and respective parking deck (or in the case of Aquia and Roanoke, future parking deck), the University Naming Committee decided it was necessary to rename Sandy Creek Parking Deck  “Shenandoah Parking Deck,” given its location near Shenandoah River Lane.

“Changing the parking deck name to Shenandoah will be an adjustment for many people returning to campus this fall,” says Josh Cantor, director of Parking and Transportation and member of the Naming Committee. “But to maintain conformity in the neighborhood design, the committee determined it was a necessary component to the plan.”

Updated signs, which also identify the deck as “formerly Sandy Creek Parking Deck,” are already in place. Also as a result of the name change to the parking deck, the student housing building formerly known as Shenandoah has been renamed “Sandbridge.”

Looking Ahead

University administrators acknowledge there will be an adjustment period, but they anticipate that over time the new neighborhood names will help new students and visitors navigate the campus more easily, while enhancing the campus resident experience.

“It helps us keep and perpetuate a sense of community on a campus that is growing rapidly,” Rose says. “Some institutions end up becoming very impersonal as they grow larger, but having neighborhoods provides the campus with more personality as well as practical implications.”

The transition is already under way. This summer, orientation groups have been instructed on the different neighborhoods. Throughout the upcoming academic year, more signage on roads and pedestrian paths will be added to differentiate the neighborhoods.

“The Naming Committee is taking a long-term approach to determine the best options according to the campus development outlined in the University Master Plan,” Hurley says. “We’ll see some changes as a result, but like many of the changes we’ve seen in the past, one year it’s a concern, and the next year it becomes a tradition.”

For more information about campus development and construction, go to building.gmu.edu.

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