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ArlingtonEducationMore vibrancy sought for Arlington campus of Mason

More vibrancy sought for Arlington campus of Mason

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More vibrant outdoor areas and the potential of mid-level pedestrian bridges connecting academic buildings are among the possibilities to help the Arlington campus of George Mason University as it grows and evolves.

Efforts should be focuses on “bringing some life and energy” to areas like the exterior courtyard area fronting Fairfax Drive, said Gregory Janks, the consultant leading an effort to reimagine Mason’s Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William campuses from a facilities standpoint.

Janks provided an update on plans and proposals in an Aug. 19 online forum. While the presentation focused mainly on the Fairfax campus, it also touched on efforts in Arlington.

The current courtyard provides space for students, staff and the broader community to congregate, but – if one is to be totally honest – often has a moribund, lifeless look and feel about it.

“How can we activate it?” Janks said.

The question wasn’t entirely rhetorical. Janks proposed a cafe and pavilion to be built on the space, which sits atop the university’s underground parking garage.

As with most of the proposals generated during the now 18-month planning process, specifics (and funding) remain open questions. But the Arlington campus is benefiting from construction of the 400,000-square-foot Institute of Digital InnovAtion, a public-private partnership rising on the spot long occupied by the university’s original home in Arlington, the one-time Kann’s Department Store.

The new digital-innovation building is slated to open in 2025.

Also discussed at the Aug. 19 meeting: Constructing mid-level pedestrian bridges between existing academic buildings on the campus, which would both provide easier access between the buildings and offer the chance for students, faculty and staff to use them as gathering spaces.

(Also part of the Aug. 19 discussion: Making Fairfax Drive safer for those crossing it to get to university facilities.)

Mason’s Arlington campus, which dates to the late 1970s, includes mostly graduate courses in public policy, law and business. The Arlington campus is located in the Virginia Square neighborhood of North Arlington, but Mason officials may look south – to the Columbia Pike and Green Valley communities – for possible expansion, as there could be federal funding available for revitalization efforts in “opportunity zones.”

“We are definitely interested in acquisition” of land to augment the Arlington campus as well as the Prince William and (to a lesser extent) Fairfax campuses, said Carol Kissal, senior vice president for finance and administration at the university.

The Arlington campus currently hosts about 2,000 Mason students in 800,000 square feet of academic space, a drop in the bucket compared to the 32,000 students and 6.4 million square feet of space on the Fairfax campus. But at an earlier gathering in the planning process, Mason officials were candid that they needed to up their game in Arlington, as a host of other institutions of higher learning have been planting outposts in the county.

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