The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Making Mac user-friendly: median, signs to make campus accessible

By Matea Wasend

Huge green highway signs tell potential visitors which exit to use to get to Macalester, but after that point there are no signs directing guests towards the school. Most struggle to find the visitor parking lot, which is tucked away behind 77 Mac. Once they’re finally on campus, the only visual aid that visitors have to find the buildings they are looking for are small, minutely lettered foldout maps.The maps in themselves are not the issue-most people can, after all, read one. The real problem is that visitors who are not taking a campus tour have no source of information about what is in each building. Most of the academic buildings have signs with a short list of the departments they contain, but Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre hopes to find a way to offer more comprehensive material about the campus to anyone who walks through it.

“Visitors have no way of knowing what’s in the buildings they are looking at,” Hamre said. “We need a way to provide them with both directions and information.”

To that end, Hamre and the rest of what she called the “Wayfinding Committee” are looking into installing Internet kiosks around campus, which would offer directions and information about every building. The kiosks might replace the poster spaces near Kirk Hall and Olin-Rice, which Hamre characterized as largely unused.

The “Wayfinding Committee,” which was formed in response to many comments from Mac students, faculty and staff who had been repeatedly asked for directions, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like-a group of staff and administrators looking for ways to make Macalester more accessible to visitors. The committee is in the early stages now, with plans in the works to conduct a survey over the summer to gauge the need for new signs, kiosks and anything else that might lessen the number of visitors who have to ask for help.

The committee has offered this surveying job to an unnamed Macalester Geography student, who would spend the summer investigating what signs are needed both on-campus and off. The student will report back to Hamre and the rest of the committee with information about where new signs should go, how much they might cost and any other factors-like city or county ordinances-that the school would have to take into account when installing new signs. With that information, the committee will draft a request for a project budget and begin the planning process.

Although the physical aspects of this project are a ways off, one of the members of the committee is working on a separate-but-equal component of the “wayfinding” task-better online information about navigating to and around Macalester. Director of Communications and Public Relations Amy Phenix is collaborating with security to update the maps provided on the website, marking parking lots and the routes to them more clearly to help visitors make their way onto campus. Phenix also hopes to incorporate “Google (or Google-like) mapping” onto the new Macalester website after it is launched this summer.

Macalester will also improve its visibility by installing another marked entryway to the campus this summer, similar to those on St. Clair and Snelling. This addition will be important to directing visitors onto a campus that “doesn’t have a front door,” said Director of the High Winds Fund Tom Welna.

The entryway, which will be erected on the corner of Grand and Macalester this summer, will also serve as a memorial to the late Margaret McPherson, wife of former Macalester President Mike McPherson. Margaret passed away unexpectedly in 2007.

“Margaret used to walk around the campus all the time with her dog,” Hamre recalled. “She knew everyone’s name, from the custodians to the vice president.she was really a part of the campus.”

Mike McPherson expressed a wish to construct a memorial that both served a purpose for the college and contributed to its beauty. The purpose of the entryway is to mark a corner of campus that sees a lot of foot traffic, from both students and visitors, every day; the beauty will come as a result of new walls, landscaping and repaving that will accompany the memorial.

Macalester students can expect another change when they return in the fall, one that will contribute in a slightly different way to the objective of improving “wayfinding”. A median much like the one that runs down Grand Avenue will be installed along Snelling, dividing the road and offering pedestrians safer passage across what is technically a state highway. The High Winds Fund, a Macalester fund which partners with college neighbors and manages a lot of nearby real estate, is contributing $400,000 to the 1.2 million dollar project.

Welna and his colleagues have been fighting to build this median for nearly five years, negotiating with groups like the Minnesota Department of Transportation, City Council and the U.S. Congress, to name a few. Welna also worked closely with neighborhood groups to gather support for the median, which will span from Grand to St. Clair and include landscaping and historic lighting.

“Snelling is a vast concrete canyon that splits the neighborhood in two,” wrote Gena Berglund, who lives to the east of Snelling, in an email. “I think the neighborhood may notice some changes in traffic on Snelling, with the highway becoming safer for drivers with the addition of left-hand turn lane. It seems to me that the plantings and lighting on the median itself will make the corridor more attractive, and give us in Mac-Groveland one more reason to love where we live.”

These positive effects fall right in line with the stated goal of the High Winds Fund, which is to “improve the beauty, serenity, and security of the area surrounding the campus of Macalester College.” Welna’s ultimate hope, however, is that the median will make the college more accessible to its neighbors to the east.

‘On foot, I will be able to cross Snelling more safely at each unmarked crosswalk,” Berglund wrote. “Absolutely I think the median makes the campus more accessible!”

The median will not only make the college more accessible, but was also a contributing factor in the formation of the “Wayfinding Committee” in the first place. As part of the negotiations for the median, the college agreed to try to improve upon campus parking-making sure that college visitors, staff and students park in campus lots, rather than in spots that belong to nearby residents-and to do so, the school first has to improve its maps and signs. If it weren’t for this promise, said Hamre, the administration would probably still be talking about, rather than acting on, its directional problems.

“We probably would have talked about it for a couple of years,” Hamre said. “Now we have to do something about it, at the very least to help direct people to the parking lots.

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