Geography Information Systems class creates virtual map of campus


If you’re looking for a building or a parking lot on campus in the next few years, a virtual map of Western’s main campus may be available on Western’s Web site.

Potential students and visitors might see a walkthrough of campus from multiple angles, including sidewalks on campus and a bird’s-eye view.

Students of geography instructor Kevin Cary’s Geographic Information Systems class began recording the position of many landmarks on campus last semester.

GIS technicians use Global Positioning System devices to pinpoint where an object, such as a tree, is located inside of Western’s borders.

Once the information is collected, it will be used along with aerial and property maps to create a 3-D campus map. The 3-D program can also show the design of a building before it is constructed.

Western is the only university Cary knows of that has a virtual map in development. The project is so rare that Cary and his assistants have been asked to speak at a panel discussion at next year’s Environmental Systems Research Institute conference.

Roads and underground cables are almost mapped.

Information Technology commissioned GIS to map various cables, including telephone, video and data lines, said IT Vice President Richard Kirchmeyer. “It is our responsibility to know where everything is,” he said.

Trees, building footprints and parking lot maps are also in the works, Cary said.

He believes that a sub-level map could locate breaks in power lines and repair them faster than before.

As GIS manager, Cary is currently working with Facilities Management to build a map of all the parking on campus to “maximize” parking spaces.

The map would display the locations of the lots, the type of parking space and the age of the pavement. These details would make repairs on the lots easier to manage.

“It’s easier to see it in front of you in a map format,” said Doug Ault, director of Facilities Management.

Possible applications for the GIS program are lengthy. The recently completed lighting map combined with the tree map has shown areas of campus where the trees hide lighting fixtures, a potential safety hazard.

Ault said he considers the partnership between GIS and Facilities Management to be mutually beneficial. GIS collects data for their maps and Facilities Management helps students use their skills in a real environment.

“I like looking at something in theory, then using it in a real world process,” said Jenna Medlin, a GIS technician and graduate student from Easley, S.C.

Cary and Ault are excited to begin the project, but funding is still in process.

For the moment, GIS program funding comes from the geography department, but department head David Keeling is unsure of how budget cuts will affect it.

Reach Bobby Harrell at [email protected]