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Monmouth University: Tunneling Through Challenges

By Jenny Boyle, regional editor

The project won and award for comprehensive planning in 2002 from the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association. English ivy is planted at the outer edges of the tunnel cut, and vinca minor at the interior. Vinca and the daffodils bloom simultaneously with complimentary colors of periwinkle blue and yellow, respectively.
photos courtesy of Jeffrey A. Tandul, CLA, ASLA, M.Arch. Copyright 2004

How do you manage a project when several different companies and government agencies must work together, under specific guidelines, with a limited budget, and, oh yeah, in about half the time it would normally take to do it?

Just ask Jeffrey A. Tandul, a landscape architect who took on the harrowing task of redesigning a busy pedestrian crossing at Monmouth University--the site of Wilson Hall and the Guggenheim Memorial Library, which are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wilson Hall had been the summer home of President Woodrow Wilson in years past and was converted for use by the university. Its direct relationship to the crosswalk gave Tandul added challenges for coming up with a design that would solve traffic problems and look like it blended with its historical surroundings.

Tandul says countless solutions for alleviating the traffic problems were discussed. In the end, a tunnel with ramps and stairs was everyone's favorite solution. Tandul says that not unlike designs of Olmsted and Vaux, this solution separated vehicular and pedestrian traffic while creating a pleasurable environmental experience. The cost was the least to build and operate and least intrusive to the historic fabric of the Historic Register Site.

Monmouth University sits astride state Route 71, near the border of Long Branch and West Long Branch New Jersey. It was founded in 1933 with federal assistance as Monmouth Junior College and though at times there was talk that the institution would not survive its economic hardships, support from students and the community enabled the fledgling college to endure and quickly assume its present private status. In 1956, it was renamed Monmouth College and accredited by the state to offer four-year programs leading to the baccalaureate degree. In 1978, Wilson Hall, along with the University's Guggenheim Memorial Library, was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, the US Department of the Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark and by March 1995, the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education designated Monmouth a full-fledged teaching university. All this acclaim brought more students and a need for more places to house and educate them.

Monmouth's growth over the years has caused new buildings to spring up on both sides of Route 71. This has resulted in heavy traffic on the two-lane highway. The campus design has all administration, food service, and classroom buildings on the southern side of Route 71, and the majority of residence halls on the northern side. An at-grade crosswalk was utilized for many years as a way for students to get from one side of the campus to the other. A campus patrolman who acted as a crossing guard manned it nearly 24 hours per day. This was the only way for students living at the dorms to get to their classes, but this layout led to everyday traffic tie-ups. Traffic and pedestrian counts revealed that at peak hours, 600 pedestrians and 1150 vehicles crossed the existing at-grade crossing. Total volumes per day between 8:00am and 7:00pm topped out at close to 5,000 pedestrians and almost 13,000 vehicles. Numerous accidents were commonplace due to the nature of traffic interruption by crossing students, and one fatality was reported of one of the crossing guards.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) utilized Tandul and other design consultants and sought out a solution to the traffic and pedestrian conflict. However, given the historic significance of the site, an ordinary utilitarian solution was not feasible. The requirements of the Department of the Interior, the Federal Highway Administration and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) had to be met. Furthermore, NJDOT wished to utilize this project to showcase the State of New Jersey's dedication to its new policy of Context Sensitive Design.

Before the tunnel was constructed, the crossing area on the dorm side of Route 71 looked like this. Every time students had to cross the street to get to their classes, traffic along the street would have to be stopped completely so a crossing guard could lead students to the other side of campus.

The Context Sensitive Design program was put in place to ensure that new projects blended in better with their pre-established surroundings.

"In the past when they did roadway projects, the designers didn't look at what was around it," says Tandul. "They had a standard design and what you got was what you got."

With the new plan, the NJDOT confers with many outside sources to make the project fit into its surroundings. They also get the public involved at a much earlier stage in the planning process. Tandul says this helps projects run much smoother because local people who will be affected by the changes can feel like their issues are addressed and that they are a part of the process.

"The worst thing that can happen on these big projects is when we're just about ready to go to construction and someone will file a lawsuit," says Tandul, referring to past incidents when neighbors who were unhappy with imminent projects would file suits to delay construction.

Aside from the Context Sensitive Design program preventing the delay of a project, Tandul says it "looks better" that they get the public so involved by holding meetings that discuss what will happen and how much will be spent.

Tandul snapped this picture right before the pavers leading to the tunnel were laid. A bituminous concrete and compacted crushed stone road base was utilized under the pavers for stability, and to accommodate the light vehicular traffic from the maintenance and campus tour "golf carts." Pavers were laid on top of this bituminous concrete base using a bituminous tack coat. The pavers were then sanded and vibrated into place.

Tandul became involved with the project in 1999, after if was placed on the New Jersey governor's "hot project" list because of the high profile location and the number of conflicts between pedestrians and car traffic. He says he faced many challenges when coming up with a design. Aside from having to maintain the historical aesthetics, he had to worry about issues such as handicapped accessibility, and the health, safety and welfare of the end users. Students needed to be able to cross safely without holding up traffic.

Not only that, the crossing also had to accommodate mobile carts utilized for campus tours and operations. What Tandul and the many others involved came up with truly blends with Monmouth's historic architectural design. They decided on a tunnel that would run underneath Route 71 and connect the north and south sides of the campus and Tandul says the work is a prime example of collaboration amongst clients and multiple professions.

"We had to consult with everyone," says Tandul. "There was review by the state historic preservation office and the federal highway administration because they provided part of the funding. We consulted with engineers, planners, people from SHPO and multiple state agencies. Even the utilities department got involved because some utilities had to be relocated with the construction."

The final constructed solution was designed and built on an extremely accelerated schedule. The project was completed in 2002, in about half the time it would normally take for a project of that magnitude.

While not an inexpensive project, efforts were made to keep costs affordable, without sacrificing aesthetics, or quality. Modern materials were used as substitutes for originals when feasible. For instance, cast stone was used in place of limestone. Tandul also found that pre-cast concrete facing panels could accurately mimic granite, and concrete pavers were utilized in lieu of bluestone (which was found on the Wilson Hall building) for increased durability and safety.

Stairs and 14- by 14-foot landings provide quick access to the tunnel (out of view off to the left/center of the plaza) from the dorms. To the right, the bottom of one of two curved ramps provides access up from the tunnel to additional dorms. The curved ramps allow for ADA accessibility, passage of multi passenger "golf cart" type tour vehicles and a more gradual grade transition into the tunnel.

"We looked at using [original products] but they were really cost-prohibitive," says Tandul of the decision to use products other than bluestone, limestone, and granite. "We had to worry about timing too. We didn't have the time to wait for materials to be shipped here."

In addition, Tandul had a heck of a time with the tile design that would line the inside of the tunnel. He related a comical instance where he and several planners gathered in the men's room of Wilson Hall to study the original tile patterns in the historic landmark. To be thorough, he also did research on tiling from the period when the Hall was built. He ran into conflicts when the NJDOT insisted on using only US products, due to the project's partial public funding.

"Since most tile is imported from Italy and other places overseas, there were only two companies we could choose from," he says.

Tandul found a way to make it work; however, choosing Crossville tile to closely mimic the original designs in Wilson Hall.

Tandul says a difficult part of his job was walking the fine line between their budget, the project's aesthetic beauty, and being true to the architectural design.

This is a detailed drawing of the pavers for the landings that are part of the large stairs that lead to the Student Plaza /Node. Each type of paver had to be labeled as to the size and color. The matrix number refers to the color, aggregate and cement color that was custom blended by Hanover Paver Company. Each paver was drawn and shown to minimize any "interpretation" of the desired pattern by the installer. During the design process, Tandul says he lugged "literally tons" of pavers to client meetings and did full scale mock-ups of the pavers for client and agency review.

"Because there was public funding involved, we didn't want to deal with a public backlash of people saying something looked too expensive," he says. "On the other hand, we knew people would also complain if we cheapened it down. We didn't want them to come back and say, "You spent all that money and that's it?'"

In more colorful terms, Tandul explains the importance of the final outcome.

"We wanted this to be a Cadillac, but we wanted to look at modern materials to improve cost and the timeline," he says.

The resultant design is meant to incorporate the historical elements of the surroundings and create the impression that it "would have been part of the original estate design and the campus grew up around it."

Not only were there budget issues to deal with, but also the collaboration with so many different groups presented its own problems at times. Being a public project meant it was a low-bid project.

"Basically we couldn't rule out any firm that wanted to bid for it," says Tandul.

It was bid-out as a highway-type project, but, Tandul explains, the intricacies of the tunnel required that the contractors be educated on how he wanted things done. It was not the conventional roadwork that many of those contractors were used to.

Additionally, Tandul ran into two problems with the computer programs he was using to render design plans. First, at the time of this project, NJDOT required that all projects be done in metric units. The structural drawings were begun in metric, but he was working in English modular, as that is the usual measurement of architectural features.

"We were going to convert to metric later, or provide metric equivalents," he says. "When I started to obtain cost back up for the construction cost estimate, most of the suppliers of pavers, panels, etc. said they could do everything metric, but there would be a 40 percent up-charge on all materials."

Tandul reported this to NJDOT, and they decided that all structural drawings and details should be in metric and all architectural drawings and details done in English Modular. However, any metric dimensions had to have the English equivalent displayed also, and any English dimensions had to be displayed in metric. Tandul says this made drafting a bit challenging. AutoCAD, the program he works with, has a nice feature that allows you to automatically perform the conversion operation; however, the conversion factor had to be selected carefully to avoid coordination difficulties.

Each Plaza (Node) was approximately 40' x 40' at the widest dimension (edge of pavement to edge of pavement). Tandul used pressed concrete pavers on the ground plane. The wall panels and base are custom-made pre-cast concrete panels. The cap on top of the low walls is cast stone, and meant to mimic the color and texture of the limestone on historic Wilson Hall and the Guggenheim Library Building.

"We had at least one major problem with the fabrication of the cast stone wall caps that had to be resolved in the field," says Tandul.

NJDOT changed its policy about three-quarters of the way through the project to require that all projects be done in English Modular Units in the future. This came too late to help Tandul and his team on their project, however.

The second issue Tandul dealt with concerned the structural drawings, which were done by the structural engineers primarily in MicroStation (a typical standard for NJDOT, says Tandul).

"My architectural details were all done in AutoCAD," he explains. "We had to frequently exchange and coordinate drawings and details."

Tandul says when multiple back and forth translations occur, files can sometimes become corrupted and minor dimensional changes can result.

"It was like building a Swiss watch with a sledgehammer," says Tandul.

Furthermore, the road above the tunnel came with its own set of challenges.

"We had issues squeezing this thing in a two-lane highway," he says. "We had to do the tunnel in sections because people still had to be able to use the road."

Traffic had to be diverted to one half of the road while construction was done to the other half. Then that part would be covered and work would begin on the other side.

Though there were many obstacles, Tandul says the final results are remarkable, given the functional and aesthetic elements that had to be addressed.

Inscribed above the tunnel on the dorm side are the words, "Carpe diem," which means "Seize the Day!" Tandul says this was his idea entirely. "The idea came to me one morning when showering for work," he says, "This shows how involved I was in this project." All through the design process and, Tandul says he had certain ideas in his head that would make this project become more than just design and a simple solution to a problem. "A university should teach not only by classes, and books, but also by the environment and memories," he says. "Universities are and should be thought of as a place of permanence. To this end the design and materials selected embody this concept."

"It's a 'see and be seen' design," says Tandul of the tunnel. "You always feel like there's somebody around because there are gathering spaces on each end of the tunnel.

The original scheme and final design accommodates the current configuration of the campus and allows for future expansion plans. The plaza on the south side of Route 71 will serve to connect several other buildings and new developments as they happen. The traffic problems that once existed are a thing of the past as well.

"I think it was a great project," says Tandul. "It was unique in terms of dealing with the government agencies and the people were wonderful."

Tandul was pleased at how well the agencies funding the project understood the necessity of staying true to the design.

"At one point," he says, "we ran over budget and we went to the project manager at DOT and he assured us that this was the design and they would figure out where to get the money. They never tried to cut corners or tell the contractors that they would have to change their plans to meet budget needs. They were sensitive to what we were trying to accomplish."

That sensitivity was important to Tandul, who had become so engrossed with the nature of the project and its significance to the university that he added special inscriptions to each end of the tunnel.

Tandul recalls the idea to add the extra design feature came to him one morning when showering for work.

"School is a golden opportunity to explore new subjects, new people and new places," says Tandul. "Once we transition from student, and begin our "work-a-day" lives, aging, new responsibilities and economic realities often dampen some of this enthusiasm and opportunity. That's why when students travel from their dorms to classes, meals, athletic facilities or administrative offices, I wanted them to be reminded to 'Carpe Diem, Sieze the Day!' because in life, we can lose many things- jobs, material possessions, loved ones, and even friends. One thing that can't ever be taken away is knowledge. Hence, when students return from their daily university activities, they are reminded as they pass through the portal back to their dorms, 'Scientia permanet aeterno, Knowledge is Eternal.'"

Intricacies of the Tunnel

By Jeffrey A. Tandul, CLA

This pattern is reminiscent of the historic paving patterns of rotated squares, alternated with circles, within a field of diagonally laid paving. To create the "base-middle-top" rhythm on the walls of the tunnel, which is the typical theme in Beaux Arts style architecture, several modern materials were selected. The wainscoting, including the base, panels and chair rail, were custom designed and manufactured pre-cast concrete panels by Hanover. They have a smooth honed finish. I spent a lot of time reviewing samples to arrive at the final aggregate and concrete matrix and finish that most closely matched the granite base found on Wilson Hall. The pilasters and cornice are custom made cast stone (to mimic limestone found on Wilson Hall and the Guggenheim Library), and cast by Artistic Architecture Company.

The field area bound by the vertical pilasters, and horizontal cornice and chair rail is two inch by two inch ceramic impervious tile, manufactured by Crossville Tile. During the design process, wall tile patterns had several iterations of colors and patterns and review by all parties for historic context, durability and appearance. Countless sample boards and full size mock-ups were produced utilizing actual tile samples. Adobe Photo Shop was also used to evaluate patterns and color selections. Actual material samples were electronically scanned to create a digital color and texture and applied over base drawings exported from AutoCAD.

Wall tile was set using a reinforced 1" thick latex-modified, mortar base and scratch coat. This allowed the installer to create a perfectly flat plane for the tile and obscure any imperfections in the pre-cast tunnel section substrate. A redundant waterproof membrane under the tile acts as a second level of protection in conjunction with waterproofing on the exterior of the tunnel. A Monmouth University Logo created in tile demarcates the center of the tunnel. Since, pedestrians feel most insecure when they are actually within a tunnel, the logo was added to orient users and inform them they are at the center of the tunnel and the end is near. Orientation and a sense of place are important factors in user's perceptions of personal security and safety.

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June 18, 2019, 9:08 pm PDT

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