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ArlingtonEducation'Stay the course' facilities plan likely for Mason Arlington campus

‘Stay the course’ facilities plan likely for Mason Arlington campus

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A soon-to-be-released plan on the facilities needs of George Mason University proposes a future for its Arlington campus largely unchanged from its current incarnation, although it likely will deliver suggestions to make the campus more welcoming to students, staff and the community, and connect the buildings better to one another.

The “stay-the-course” proposal will aim to make the large plaza fronting Fairfax Drive a more useful gathering space, perhaps with a café attached, while potentially adding a mid-level connection between Smith and Van Metre Halls to effectively combine them as one.

That was the vision outlined by Gregory Janks, who has led the 18-month planning process for the three main Mason campuses.

The preview was provided Oct. 7 during a larger discussion of Mason’s facilities planning. The complete report is expected to be released in about a month.

Located in the Virginia Square corridor of Arlington, the Mason presence has grown from a single building (the now-demolished former Kann’s Department Store building) to three major academic buildings with a fourth on the horizon.

That new facility – the 400,000-square-foot Institute of Digital InnovAtion – represents a public-private partnership rising on the spot long occupied by the Kann’s building, which once served as home to Mason’s law school. It is slated to open in 2025.

The large plaza area in front of Hazel Hall would seem a natural for additional development, but because it is located atop the campus’s parking garage, there seems no feasible way to accommodate the underground infrastructure needed to anchor a major building in place.

The plaza could, however, be gussied up with more trees and the prospective café (which seems an idea near and dear to Janks’s heart). There also could be an improved crossing of Fairfax Drive in front of the plaza, encouraging the public to incorporate the Mason campus more into daily life.

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.

At previous forums during the planning process, university officials did mention branching out to other Arlington corridors, such as Columbia Pike, to broaden their footprint in the county. Those comments have largely been missing in later forums in the series.

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