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Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience
Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

by James F. Hocker, RLA aEUR" Derck & Edson, LLC

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

This walkway to the University parking structure was specified to have new pavers and a new limestone and granite pier.

With a prime location on the edge of the downtown business district, Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was poised to reestablish its physical connection to the city, benefitting students and local residents alike.

Overarching goals for the project included an emphasis on pedestrian safety at two busy street crossings and development of a key entry point to the campus along South Main Street.

The primary location in question was an alleyway between a vacated business and the Student Recreation Center. This location was functioning as an important access point to the center of campus. Its proximity to a university parking structure utilized by staff and visitors as well as to Towers, the largest student residence hall, made this corridor well-traveled. However, with the number of pedestrians crossing South Main at this location and also at South Franklin Street, both at mid-block crossings, consideration of pedestrian safety was also critical.

Safety First
Working with Wilkes University, the city of Wilkes Barre, PennDOT, and traffic engineers, Derck & Edson led the team in developing a traffic calming solution consisting of designated, lighted, mid-block crossings with overhead flashers to calm traffic speeds and draw attention to pedestrian circulation. Introducing consistent elements such as light pole banners, wayfinding signs, and attractive black fencing, further enhanced the locations and helped to support the redesign of these spaces as pedestrian zones.

Funding assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development was obtained and proved beneficial not just for the financial feasibility of the project, but also to bring together key stakeholders for a mutually beneficial project.

Campus Enhancement
The need for this project was identified and prioritized through Derck & Edson's Campus Enhancement PlanTM process. The gateway itself transformed a once tired asphalt drive lane into a well-used pedestrian promenade that is landscaped and lighted. The design, while prioritizing safety and function, also elevates the presence of Wilkes University on South Main Street.

A range of thoughtful material formed a basis for a half dozen campus improvements projects, each one building on the Gateway and establishing, by way of visual and material cues, the Wilkes University experience for both students, visitors, and the larger city community.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

New limestone and granite entry pier integrated into the original wrought iron fencing of the historic Weckesser Mansion (left).

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

New gathering patio opposite Weckesser Hall entrance. Self-watering planters, Victor Stanley benches, and Verdin post clock.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

Outside of Kapan Hall, this new entry patio incorporated a Wilkes stone seal salvaged from another part of the campus.

Taking design inspiration from historic Weckesser Hall, the material palette drew on the substantial materials: Granite, Indiana limestone, and wrought iron. A color palette of neutrals including grey and charcoal pavers helped execute a traditional and classic appearance that works as a durable canvas for both the historic mansions of campus as well as the more modern glass and metal academic buildings.

With the design vision of the Gateway established, new investments along the 750-foot-long corridor were leveraged. The vacant property along South Main was purchased and the renovated, a Starbucks coffee shop with outdoor seating along the walk was opened, the campus side entrance to the Weckesser Hall was refreshed, and a new rose garden entrance was established to a newly renovated Capin Hall, forming the nexus of the new gateway and the original Campus Quad and Greenway.

The patios off of the gateway are prime settings for outdoor receptions. Combining key locations with quality materials produced welcoming nodes and gathering spaces perfectly sized for gatherings, whether formal or informal.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

Gathering space at Weckesser - the design for the entire Gateway corridor also focused on preservation of existing tree canopy.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

Raised pedestrian crossing at South Franklin Street with pedestrian actuated flashers mounted on Valmont Structures poles - with removable reliance foundry bollards and new Ameristar fencing (foreground) and historic fencing (far view).

The addition of signage, banners, and other elements improved pedestrian and vehicular circulation. While remaining compliant with City zoning requirements, the use of the Wilkes University logo, colors, and fonts along the corridor reinforces the Wilkes brand while at the same time identifies key campus entry points and edges, buildings, and points of interest.

The Gateway Project design also strengthened and improved the pedestrian walks and gathering areas from the crosswalk at South Street to the main Greenway, including the area around the Iconic Post Clock that references the turn-of-the-century era of Weckesser Hall and formed the counterpoint to the actual gateway structure, enhancing its prominence as a campus icon.

For the renovated gateway corridor, a planting plan was developed with landscape materials that display seasonal color and interesting textures while framing the pedestrian spaces and architecture. Existing, mature, shade trees, including impressive oaks and sycamores from the former mansions, were preserved to provide canopy shade. Supplementing the mature material, flowering cherries were specified for their early spring blooms. For added interest and reduced maintenance, a series of self-watering planters were included along the building edge of the walkway. The planters receive periodical displays of annuals which activate the Gateway and are spaced to create a rhythm along the linear walk. On the shady side of the walk, shrubs and herbaceous plants, including ferns and oakleaf hydrangea, were specified for their texture and shade tolerance.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

This entry way with its new gateway arch at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was an area of focus for a redesign of the campus by Derck and Edson, LLC, working with the university, the city, PennDOT and traffic engineers to produce a more pedestrian-friendly environment. The main sections of gray pavers were laid in a herringbone pattern in between running bond courses of charcoal pavers.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

Self-watering planters can be found along the renovated 141 South Main Street building and the new home of the Communications Department on the right. Shade tolerant plants were specified for this area. New light posts were also a critical element for pedestrian safety.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

The walkway before the reconstruction.

Previously, in some areas, thickets of overgrown plant material were a concern. In the new design, in all cases, attention was paid to opening up views to the larger campus, widening site lines and giving a sense of security for students. This more open approach also frames campus open spaces and prominent architecture.

The capstone to the project is an actual Gateway arch which forms a portal from South Main Street's downtown vitality to campus. The archway detailing combines limestone, granite, and iron work to form a stately entrance befitting the connection to the historic campus architecture of Weckesser Hall.

The walkway itself is replete with period lighting, flowering trees, and herringbone patterned paving stones. Activating the length of the walk are nodes for seating, gathering, and entrances to key campus buildings. In order to create synergies with the downtown, the University seized the opportunity to combine disparate departments into a unified space with the renovated 141 South Main Street building. Located on the corner of the Gateway and South Main, this building is now the home of the University's Communications Department. This repurposed structure houses the University radio station, art gallery, and broadcast productions, further enlivening the downtown location.

Gateway to a Transformed Campus Experience

Previously, this corridor was only used by necessity - now it is a destination for meeting friends, stopping for coffee on the way to class and visiting the downtown shops. Activating this part of campus has provided a lively and positive presence even into the evening hours, further enhancing safety by encouraging affirmative activity and use.

Successful completion of the Gateway project has been the catalyst for campus-wide pedestrian and greenspace improvements, based on the design elements established with the Gateway and prompting intentionally phased projects that, woven together, are completely transforming the campus experience at Wilkes University.

Prunus sargenti columnaris | Columnar Sargent Cherry
Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowqueen' | Snowqueen Oakleaf Hydrangea
Dryopteris marginal | Eastern Wood Fern
Liriope muscari 'Big Blue' | Big Blue Lilyturf
Pachysandra terminalis | Japanese Spurge
Client: Wilkes University
Landscape Architecture: Derck & Edson
Traffic and Electrical Engineering: Borton-Lawson
General Contractor: Sordoni Construction
Landscape Contractor: Green Valley Landscaping
Indiana Limestone
Barre Gray Granite

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2019.

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September 21, 2019, 11:26 am PDT

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