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Building 150 Years of Virginia Tech: The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities

The year 2022 marked 150 years of teaching, learning, research, and memories at Virginia Tech. For the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities, this sesquicentennial celebration signifies a century and a half of building, maintaining, and fostering a unique learning, work, and home environment for all Hokies.

“Our team works tirelessly to assure that the university’s buildings and grounds constantly express the sense of place and quality that is intrinsic to Virginia Tech,” said Chris Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities.

Established in 1872, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was humbly located on present-day Alumni Mall. The university has grown into the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and a leading research institution. Virginia Tech now offers about 280 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students across the commonwealth and manages a research portfolio of more than $556 million.

Virginia Tech has a 2,600-acre main campus in Blacksburg and a significant presence across the commonwealth, including the Innovation Campus in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area; the Health Sciences and Technology campus in the Roanoke Innovation Corridor; sites in Abingdon, Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Newport News. Plus there are Agricultural Research and Extension Centers across the state, a campus in Switzerland, and an 1,800-acre agriculture research farm near the Blacksburg campus.

The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities has contributed to this tremendous growth through planning, maintaining, and improving the university’s physical infrastructure. The division has played an integral role in delivering Virginia Tech’s distinct and beloved “This is Home” phrase to Hokies across all campuses and beyond.

“Our mission is to align the physical campus with the institution’s mission vision, core values, and strategic plan,” said Liza Morris, assistant vice president for planning and university architect. “Anything you see in the physical realm and how that can strengthen what Virginia Tech means to people, that’s what we want to achieve.”

Although the day-to-day operations of the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities are generally completed behind the scenes by more than 500 highly skilled employees, the results of their essential work are immediately seen, felt, and recognized by all.

From housekeeping in teaching labs and offices to campus planning and design in preparation for a new building, the division provides services that have allowed the university to thrive for 150 years.

On site at Data and Decision Sciences Building capital construction project. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

Powering The University

Serving the community since its establishment in 1901, the Virginia Tech Power Plant is the only fully university-run power plant in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Reminiscent of powering a small city, the plant provides steam, hot water, and electricity to every building on the Blacksburg campus.

“The plant is something that the campus can’t be without,” said Todd Robertson, associate director of utilities-power plant. “It’s an honor to be able to provide that reliability to the university community.”

Robertson has over 28 years of experience at the Virginia Tech Power Plant. He has held positions involved in every aspect of the plant, from an operator to associate director.

Operating the facility through all conditions to support the campus has fostered a strong sense of service and community building among Robertson and other team members at the Virginia Tech Power Plant.

“It’s loud and it’s invigorating. You just can’t help but want to be a part of that when you’re surrounded by it,” said Robertson.

This intense feeling of service is put into action when challenges arise. Members of the power plant are well prepared for these complications through the mentorship they receive, and they are able to work together to solve the situation for the larger campus community.

In the late 1990s, Blacksburg faced intense ice storms that caused a water pumping station to fail and resulted in lost water on campus. Division leaders collaborated with the Blacksburg Fire Department to bring water to the plant to keep the remaining water boilers up and running.

“The fire department pumped water out of the river and brought it to us, so we actually pumped that water into the boiler to keep the plant running and therefore power running on campus,” said Robertson. “This is what our leaders over the years have instilled in us. It’s times like this that we build on.

Curating Virginia Tech’s Sense of Place

What it means to be a Hokie can in part be attributed to the Blacksburg campus’ unique campuswide Collegiate Gothic architecture.

“It is important to remember our responsibility to ensure that we retain that special sense of place as we grow,” said Morris. “Virginia Tech is a fantastic place from both a visual and experiential perspective.

As part of her role, Morris has ample opportunities to highlight Virginia Tech’s architectural and design features to university and community members.

“It’s always so exciting for me to be talking and have a certain group in the room say ‘Go Hokies!’ because they are all alumni,” said Morris. “Although I am not a Virginia Tech alum, I feel the same love and attachment to campus that they do.”

The warm, inviting feeling felt when walking through campus contributes to what Virginia Tech means and represents to students, faculty and staff, alumni, visitors, and more.

“Everything that an individual interacts with, touches, or comes into contact with shows how we are directly engaged in their whole environment and have helped to shape and support their experience,” Morris said.

This one-of-a-kind Virginia Tech experience can be described by the Hokie Stone backdrop that is accompanied by the dramatic landscape experience on the Blacksburg campus.

“When you move through Eggleston Quad’s west portal out onto the Drillfield, there’s drama in that, which heightens the experience of being here,” said Morris. “This is what sets the stage for that sense of place and belonging.”

Hokie Stone buildings on a summer day. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

Foster Hokie community

Many Hokies describe Virginia Tech by mentioning the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Ut Prosim puts service at the core of Virginia Tech and delivers a community atmosphere that encourages care for one another.

The university’s motto is alive among members of the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities as their roles and responsibilities are ultimately to serve the campus community.

Sandra Hayes is part of the housekeeping team in Pamplin Hall. She has been working at Virginia Tech for 15 years, and she radiates what it means to be a Hokie.

“The division works very hard in analyzing, planning, maintaining, and improving the physical infrastructure to meet the needs of the institution,” said Hayes. “And here at housekeeping, we work very hard to provide and maintain a safe and clean environment. I am thankful to have a part in that.”

Ut Prosim is lived out throughout the individuals of the division who dedicate themselves to the betterment of others. This greater purpose goes well beyond a job description to tidy classrooms. Instead, it is writing a thoughtful thank you note or flashing a friendly smile after class.

“This job is really rewarding when people come up to you personally to thank you or write notes on your board,” Hayes said.

Virginia Tech fosters the camaraderie that grows on the Blacksburg campus and beyond. Friendships and relationships that last a lifetime are built between students, faculty and staff, and alumni and make the Virginia Tech experience that much more special.

“The team I work with has truly become my family,” said Hayes. I have cherished these friendships.”

Part of Something Greater

Darrell Bourne, quarry supervisor and Christiansburg native has worked at the Virginia Tech quarry for 33 years. He has experienced many of the quarry’s foundational changes.

“It was like the Flintstones – looking back to where we started compared to where we are now,” said Bourne. “Everything was done by hand the. All the drilling and stone was hand-cut.”

The Hokie Stone collection and distribution process has resulted in a sense of community and teamwork across the division.

“Everyone works together. Teamwork is a big part of it,” said Bourne. “You see that throughout campus and throughout the division – that camaraderie and friendship that you make.”

Bourne’s most meaningful experience during his service to the university included the honor of creating the stones for the April 16 Memorial.

“To make the memorial stones for each and every one of the students who were taken on April 16, 2007, was so memorable,” said Bourne. “I ride by and see them with my grandkids and my wife.”

Hokie Stone represents something that is not always able to be put into words. The material is a staple to the Virginia Tech community and represents a real, tangible sense of place for all Hokies to experience.

“When you work in this every day, all you see is a rock. Sometimes you can forget what it really means to the university,” said Bourne. “It’s Hokie Stone. It’s much more than a rock.”

The Hokie Stone Quarry team. Photo by Andrew Durfee for Virginia Tech.

A Community Partner

In sync with the university’s Office of Government and Community Relations, the division continues to build on successful partnerships with local and regional stakeholders.

Leaders within the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities serve community organizations such as the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority, New River Valley Regional Water Authority, New River Valley Regional Commission, New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority, Virginia Tech-Montgomery Regional Airport Authority, and the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority.

The product of over a decade of planning led by the Town of Blacksburg in close coordination with Virginia Tech, the Multi-Modal Transit Facility will deliver a central transportation hub and alternative transportation facilities in the vicinity of Perry Street, embedded within the North Academic District.  The capstone of this expansive, 6-plus acre project will be a 13,000 gross-square-foot, two-story transit center that will serve as a hub for multiple modes of alternative transportation, including Blacksburg Transit, the Smart Way bus, Virginia Breeze, and bike share.

The sesquicentennial grove. Photo by Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.

The Forefront of The Future

In support of the expected campus growth highlighted throughout Virginia Tech’s visionary 2018 master plan for the Blacksburg campus, the division is actively supporting the university’s ambitious six-year capital outlay plan for 2020-26, including approximately 30 projects and totaling nearly $3 billion.

The division is intimately engaged in the planning, construction, and operational efforts of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and at the forefront of bolstering strategic priorities in support of accessibility, inclusion, environmental stewardship, sustainability, energy management, agricultural investment, and a host of other institutional excellence initiatives.

Fostering accessible and inclusive spaces are distinctly tied to the Virginia Tech design identity. The Infinite Loop and Green Links Design Guidelines – two award-winning features of the campus master plan for open space planning – developed routes and design characteristics to vastly improve accessibility, mobility, and the landscape of the Blacksburg campus pathways, which are challenged by topography and were largely developed prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nearly two years after the university’s Climate Action Commitment was approved, Virginia Tech has made significant progress toward achieving critical milestones that help accomplish a carbon neutral Blacksburg campus by 2030. In alignment with Virginia Tech’s strategic plan and campus master plan, the Climate Action Commitment and corresponding implementation plan demonstrate the university’s impact as a global land grant – progressing sustainability in our community, through the Commonwealth of Virginia, and around the world.

“While implementing the Climate Action Commitment is going to be a big challenge for us, we rise to challenges, especially when they’re in service to others. We encourage collaboration, and we need everyone’s help to make sure these policies and programs are a success,” said Mary-Ann Ibeziako, assistant vice president for infrastructure and chief sustainability officer. “From the students who have been vital from the very beginning to the faculty whose expertise will let us stay at the cutting edge and the community whose support will extend climate action across the New River Valley and beyond.”

The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities has a significant role that motivates the university to cherish its unique spirit and reach new heights as it enters a new chapter.

– Meghan Marsh

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