A hilltop under renovation will greet students this fall

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Digital Blueprint by Planning, Design, and Construction

Bird’s eye view of the blueprint for the space where the Garrett Conference Center used to be and the how the roads will be altered.

Makaio Smith, Staff writer

Students will find a reconfigured hilltop when they return to the WKU campus in August, with lawn space filling the hole where Garrett Conference Center once stood and a new traffic pattern that separates pedestrians from vehicles.

“There will be a lot more gathering spaces for the students,” Bryan Russell, Chief facilities officer, said. “It will be a place for students to interact in between class periods.”

Filling the void from the Garrett demolition at the top of the Hill was the starting point of the Hilltop Restoration Project.

Garrett Conference Center was originally built in 1953 and served as a student activities building.

The building housed dining options such as a Subway, Panda Express, and a cafeteria.  It also held rooms that could be used for a variety of purposes and the top floor was a ballroom that could seat about 1,000 people for banquets, school dances, and other activities.

According to the Hilltop Study Master Plan: “The removal of the Garrett Conference Center will enhance views and connectivity from south campus to north campus and increase circulation through and around the new” Commons at Helm Library, which opened in April.

A construction worker uses truck too lay down manure to the far left of the construction site.

Renderings of the transformed site show that the space where Garrett once stood will become green space with multiple seating areas and gathering spaces.

Traffic at the top of the Hill will be rerouted, with portions of Colonnade Drive removed and replaced with walkways. Vehicles will enter the Hill on Hilltop Drive at the pylon in front of Gordon Wilson Hall and then will loop around Potter Hall and exit the Hill on the same road. The portion of Hilltop Drive between Gordon Wilson and Van Meter halls, now one way, will carry two-way traffic.

A construction worker marked pathways to know which ones are stay and which are being demoed for the configuration. (Makaio Smith)

The original concept for the project was created by Luckett and Farley Architects in 2019. It was incorporated into WKU’s 2021-31 Campus Master Plan, which was developed and approved in 2021 when WKU partnered with Gensler Architects.

The master plan provides a direction for development on the WKU campus for a 10-year period.

The changes at the top of the Hill under way this summer have a project budget of $4.7 million. The goal is to have these renovations done by the 2023 spring semester, Russell said.

“The purpose of the master plan is to evaluate and assess pedestrian and vehicular circulation opportunities associated with ‘Hilltop’ on the WKU campus and to develop recommendations for the improvement of access and safety for pedestrians and the reduction of through campus traffic flow along Hilltop Drive,” according to the Hilltop Study Master Plan. “Current improvements to the Helm Library will alter pedestrian circulation patterns from campus areas south of Hilltop Drive and will have an impact on pedestrian/vehicular conflicts.”

New pedestrian walkways will be added in addition to the roads by the Colonnade being altered to decrease pedestrian/vehicular conflict and increase pedestrian safety. Several barrier-free improvements under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be completed this summer.

These improvements will include additional ADA parking in the Gated Hilltop Lot, an ADA entry access to the first floor of Cherry Hall, improved access to the Industrial Education Building, and barrier-free routes along College Heights Boulevard and to the Chandler Chapel.

The barrier-free routes along College Height Boulevard to Chandler Chapel have already been completed, Russell said.

The construction site from beside the Colonnade and behind Cherry hall. Also blocked off side walk and road where construction workers are working on the steam pipes . (Makaio Smith)

The 2021-2031 campus master plan can be found on the Planning, Design, and Construction website, which includes the complete Hilltop Study plan in the master plan appendix. There you can find more information on how WKU plans to renovate the campus over the next 10 years.

“One of the beauties of a university is that each year we make improvements, they’re usually very well received,” Russell said. “I think with the interaction, going between classes, and crossing road ways, it’ll be a welcomed change.”

Makaio Smith can be reached at [email protected]