An estimated $34 million dining hall project for the University of Wisconsin-Madison may get snagged in the trees.
The proposed Gordon Commons building has received state approval, but when the project went before Madison’s Urban Design Commission for an informational presentation, some commission members immediately called for more trees to improve aesthetics and safety.
“The unfortunate part of the building is that they have to have a dining hall throughout the construction process,” said Bruce Woods, commission chairman, “so the green space won’t happen until the new building is done and the old building can come down.”
When the new building is finished in 2012, the existing structure will be replaced with green space, most of which will be along West Johnson Street.
Woods said the commission would have liked to see the green space facing Dayton Street, which carries lighter traffic than Johnson.
“If kids are going to be out there throwing Frisbees, we want to see a bit more of a buffer between the green space and Johnson,” he said. “We’d like to see two or three rows of trees added, which is more than what they’ve shown us.”
Woods said he did not know if the location of the green space would stall the project.
“For the most part, I think, we were happy,” he said. “There was nothing that made us go, ‘Oh my God, you can’t do that.’”
Doug Hirsch, director of design for Madison-based Potter Lawson Inc., the project architect, said the request for trees is manageable but three rows might be too many.
“I’m not sure it’s the right proportion,” he said. “But it’s something we’re looking into. The fact of the matter is you have three landscape architects on the Urban Design Commission, so when you start talking about green space, there are a lot of ideas being kicked around. It was more of a good discussion than anything else.”
Hirsch said the project could go back before the commission this month or early January for approval. He said he did not know how much adding trees would hike the project’s cost.
UW-Madison officials decided to build a new dining hall instead of updating the existing one because of project costs. Mark Mueller, director of University Housing, said he did not know how much more renovating Gordon Commons would have cost, but said the upgrades needed to replace aging equipment and building features would have added millions to the price tag.
“It’s an old, inefficient building,” he said. “Beyond kitchen equipment (that needs replaced), we’re also talking about windows and building systems.”
Initial plans for the new building look promising, Woods said, and the green space will be a welcome addition to a densely built area. Still, he said city planners want more protection for pedestrians from the traffic along Johnson.
“If a few more trees isn’t that great of an expense,” he said, “then why not?”