There was a traffic jam on campus.
The main entrance drive was clogged with backhoes, 18-wheelers loaded with sod, and construction crews swarming across the road as summer rains poured down.
It was the storm before the calm as workers rushed to finish major pieces of the University of Mobile’s $7 million Campus Enhancement Project – the most far-reaching campus-wide improvement of buildings and grounds since the 1970s.
The result is “absolutely stunning.”
The complexity of the project required that most improvements be accomplished during the summer months when many students and faculty were on break. Entire academic departments were moved from one area of the university to another to accommodate growing and changing programs. Projects ranged from lighting the baseball field to replacing the original windows in the university’s first building, Weaver Hall.
“We began calling it ‘the domino project’ because of the major logistical planning as one building came offline to be renovated and offices were moved to another building that had just been renovated,” said UMobile President Mark Foley.
When Ram Rush 2013 kicked off in August, the majority of the campus enhancement projects were complete. Remaining projects are expected to be finished in time for spring semester 2014.
Save the Oaks
The most visible project is also perhaps the most impressive. Drive past the gatehouse onto Pollock-Altmayer Drive, the main entrance to campus, and the view is breathtaking. Lamppost-style lighting, sidewalks, bridges, benches, lush green sod and majestic oak trees line both sides of the road, framing a view of the flag plaza and Weaver Hall.
“One of my students shared a great comment that sums up how many of us feel about that gorgeous entrance,” said Dr. Sue Gober, professor of education and chair of the Department of Elementary/Secondary Education. “She was telling me why she transferred to UMobile. She said she brought her son to soccer camp this summer and it was her first time to come on campus and, I quote, ‘Every time I drove through that gate, I felt a peace and thought…this must be a special place.’”
Foley said, “We knew we needed to have a first impression that was absolutely stunning, that communicates quality, safety and security to students and all who enter our campus.”
The effect has been several years in the making, with the addition in recent years of metal fencing and gates donated by Board trustee Jim Daniel and his wife, Helen. Also added were a brick gatehouse and security system.
But beautification alone wasn’t the impetus for the project. Erosion, past hurricane damage, and age was endangering the oaks donated in 1969 by prominent Mobile physician Dr. Samuel Eichold and his wife, Charlotte, in honor of his parents, Bernard H. and Myra Eichold. Their family name derived from German, “Eichold,” means “sturdy oak,” but the Eichold Oaks were in precarious shape.
“We had an asset in danger, and the university wanted to ensure these beautiful trees will be here for future generations,” said Steve Lee, vice president for business affairs, who oversees the fiscal and physical plant operations of the 880-acre campus.
Lee said an inventory was made of the total 115 large oaks on campus, 43 of which line the entrance drive. Vicki Burgin, director of institutional operations, and Kim Browder, director of physical plant services for National Management Resources at UMobile, said the scope of the project was driven by the university’s commitment to save the oaks.
Pruning and deep root fertilization are bringing the oaks back, and cables installed high in the branches strengthen the trees and will help keep the canopy high enough so vehicles may pass on the drive underneath. A retaining wall was installed and dirt backfilled to reduce the slope caused by erosion. Then a walkway and sod were installed along both sides of the drive, benches placed at scenic spots and lampposts replaced the original 1963 lighting.
Some of the changes on campus are immediately visible, and others are more subtle but no less significant.
The original windows in Weaver Hall were replaced with tinted, energy-efficient windows that will reduce heating and air-conditioning costs, and update the university’s first building. Also, Rooms 303 and 305 were renovated into one large classroom housing the physics lab.
The existing art studios in Martin Hall were converted for use by the Center for Performing Arts/School of Music and School of Worship Leadership. The old 2-D lab is now a technology classroom and rehearsal space, while the old 3-D studio functions as rehearsal and classroom space for film and theatre students.
School of Christian Ministries faculty have moved into first-floor offices in Martin Hall once occupied by the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Ben May Building – that once housed the campus bookstore, fitness center, and Ram Deli – now is home to the College of Arts & Sciences with five classrooms and 10 faculty offices. Additionally, Farmer Building and Garner Building had an interior facelift to match the new look of the May Building, while also receiving an HVAC upgrade. Farmer houses the 2-D & 3-D art studios, formerly in Martin Hall, while Garner houses the English department.
Last year, J.L. Bedsole library was renovated to function as a student center, housing Java City coffee shop and the campus bookstore. The second phase of this project is underway, expanding the first floor of the former library space to include a new grill and fitness facility. A patio will be added at the back of the building to complement those at the front of the library and beside Ram Hall.
The swimming pool was resurfaced and new rubber decking was added, along with a restroom and shower facility.
Night baseball games at Jacobs Field are now possible with the addition of outdoor lighting and a state-of-the-art scoreboard. The baseball locker room has also been completed, with a paved drive and erosion control underway.
Last year, irrigation and new landscaping was added to the Ram statue island area, as well as an LED sign for current events and announcements.
The driving force behind the campus enhancement project was a focus on faithful stewardship.
“We understand the importance of taking good care of that which we have inherited from those who have gone before us. Our emphasis throughout the Campus Enhancement Project was on using our financial and physical resources in the most effective ways possible to make the most impact as we fulfill the vision of those early founders of Mobile College,” Foley said.
The idea for the extensive fruit-basket-turnover began when he asked his key leadership team how to create space to house the growing music program, which was bursting at the seams.
“Dr. Audrey Eubanks (vice president for academic affairs) came back and said, ‘I think we can move the library to the second floor and still expand library services. What can we do with the first floor?’” Foley recalled. “That started the dream.”