Williamson plaza to handle light traffic

Joel Sawyer

Duluth — The University’s Board of Regents approved a plan Thursday that would reconnect Pillsbury Drive between Church and Pleasant streets after more than 20 years of separation.
The road will “historically re-connect the campus,” said Clinton Hewitt, director of University master planning. The short span of road, which linked the University’s Old Historic Campus District to Pillsbury Hall, was separated shortly before Williamson Hall was built in 1977. The 24-foot-wide road will be designed to handle one-way campus circulator traffic and two-way bicycle traffic.
The road extension is part of a $2.9 million Williamson Hall board-approved renewal project that will see the buried four-level concrete structure upgraded. Most areas of the existing roof, which rests under the Williamson Hall plaza, will receive a new waterproofing system, necessitating the reconstruction of the plaza.
The plaza will be narrowed to make way for the Pillsbury Drive extension, but will be redesigned to be a more accommodating place for students, said Linda McCracken-Hunt, director of the University architect’s office. Although the overall size of the plaza will be reduced, the area will actually have more green space than it currently does. Trees will be planted to replace those torn down for the roofing project, and a patch of lawn will be added where concrete now exists.
Becky Muyres, a College of Liberal Arts junior, said she doesn’t welcome the new roadway, but added the redesigned plaza might be nice. “I think we have enough construction going on around here,” she said. “The grass sounds nice but I wouldn’t want to sit next to a road.”
Pillsbury Drive could become an open access, two-way road in the future if it proves safe, said Paul Tschida, assistant vice president of the University’s Department of Health and Safety. But, he added, “We’re a little bit nervous about opening up the road to two-way traffic because of all the pedestrians coming out of Folwell Hall.”
The reconnection of Pillsbury Drive could spur the opening of other closed streets on campus such as the portion of Church Street near Washington Avenue.
“The Campus Master Plan promotes the reopening of some streets that were closed to improve internal movement on campus,” Hewitt said. The master plan is the University’s long-range vision for the school’s architecture, landscape design and overall physical environment.
Hewitt added that those streets would not be opened until the University is sure they could regulate them for use to help facilitate intra-campus movement and not use as travel shortcuts.
“The question is, can you manage (the streets) the way you intended, to get the outcome you expected, so that traffic is slowed and they are not used as thru-streets,” Hewitt said.
In addition to the roof repairs, Williamson Hall will have its 20-year-old elevators replaced and will receive upgrades to its sprinkler and air-conditioning systems. The building’s bathrooms and work areas will also be made more accessible.
The renewal project, which is being funded by state appropriations and University Parking and Transportation Services, will begin this month and should be completed by November. Maintenance and repair costs for the roadway will be paid for by Parking and Transportation Services.