In the Belk Tower’s 45 years, it saw free speech in the form of protests, students breaking out into flash mobs and vigils for live’s lost. In December 2015, the Belk Tower’s legacy ended when it was dismantled due to structural damage and potential safety concerns. This month, construction fences went up where the tower once stood, in hopes that renovations, developed by a team of consultants, will recreate the interaction and engagement at the core of campus that has been lost since the removal of Belk Tower two years ago.
The university breaks ground on the plaza this week, at the center of Winningham, Kennedy, Colvard halls and Atkins Library. Within the next six months, the first phase of the renovation plans will be complete. Phase one includes an oval, slightly elevated lawn that will lead up to a performance stage and a fountain that will be installed directly across from the stage, at the opposite end of the lawn. It will be made out of natural stone and double-sided with two tiers of cascading water on one side and a flat sheet of water going into the ground on the other. The edges of the lawn will be surrounded by seat walls with plants behind. Adjacent to the fountain, there will be an event plaza with a gray paving.
Those working on the project at facilities management are hoping the natural stone and gray colors will make the space stand out amongst the primarily brick campus.
They are also making improvements to the area, such as replacing bricks and removing the steps and ramp in front of Winningham Hall, flattening out the entrance.
The project manager Elizabeth Frere hopes the anticipated success of phase one will speed up the process of receiving funding for phase two.
“I think people are going to be so excited once this gets installed, that it’s going to be obvious that we want to go ahead and upgrade the rest of it,” Frere said.
If funded, phase two will include a study area in front of Kennedy and a swing courtyard, with either hammocks or swinging chairs, between Colvard and Rowe. The designers also envision adding some type of dining, such as a food truck or a restaurant, to one of the corners of the plaza.
The Belk Plaza Planning Committee hosted three community forums last year where LandDesign pitched conceptual plans and accepted feedback and suggestions from attendees. At the final forum, designer Adam Martin said [LandDesign] had concluded that the renovations to Belk Plaza should attract people and emphasize the plaza as the core of campus, based on the responses they received during the previous forums. At the first forum, senior landscape architect Richard Petersheim mentioned the area was only used as a pass-through, calling it “sleepy,” compared to other parts of campus, such as the Student Union.
One goal LandDesign had during the forums was to create a design that would eliminate the “straight-shot” walk and encourage people to walk in a curve.