‘We’re invested:’ Kettering University master plan aims to bring growth to campus, Flint community through new projects

FLINT, MI — Kettering University officials’ vision for the campus and community is all about growth, development and moving toward a collaborative environment. Building on what Kettering has already begun to establish over the past few years, the university’s focus on future development doesn’t just benefit students, but the entire community. “We’re invested. We’re planning […]

FLINT, MI — Kettering University officials’ vision for the campus and community is all about growth, development and moving toward a collaborative environment.

Building on what Kettering has already begun to establish over the past few years, the university’s focus on future development doesn’t just benefit students, but the entire community. “We’re invested. We’re planning expansions and growth into the community,” said Kettering University President Robert McMahan. “We are part of the community. The success of Flint is our success.” Looking at the newly released 10-year Kettering master plan, the university’s wish list includes new buildings, green space, community opportunities, learning opportunities, creative space on campus and a connection to downtown Flint’s positive momentum.

Founded in 1919 as the School of Automobile Trades, the university has gone through a lot of change and growth in the past century. McMahan has been with the university since 2011 and has focused on cleaning up blight around the campus and the University Avenue corridor, as well as bringing new educational opportunities for the students and the community.The master plan is one more step with that mindset. The creation of the master plan was more than a year in the making to ensure it fit the concept of the university and its outreach and served the students as technology and learning advances.

See a breakdown of Kettering’s master plan here.

University leaders wanted social spaces where the campus could come together as a community and collaborate. The first project on the list is a new building to act as the Learning Commons. It’s what McMahan referred as a hybrid building, where a mixed use of spaces will be in one facility. The Learning Commons, set to be built west of Kettering’s campus center, will form a “quad” with the rec center, Campus Center and residence hall. The building will be a modern, multi-use academic student life building with open spaces, food service and a new, modern library.

It will have open spaces and a lot of natural light. It will include space for academic classrooms, public art and design and collaborative space. “It becomes a very engaging space that people want to be at,” McMahan said. The Learning Commons would also connect with the campus center by means of an enclosed walkway. But it’s more than a walkway. That space will be interactive with art and usable rooms.

A project such as the Learning Commons could cost anywhere from $40 million to $60 million, McMahan said. As a fundraising campaign is already underway, McMahan hopes to break ground on the project within three years and have a ribbon cutting by 2019. That’s just the beginning of what Kettering officials have envisioned. Future phases include new dorms to replace Thompson Hall, which was built in 1969.

The new dorms will feature open, collaborative spaces that mirror what will be available in academic spaces on campus. Green space, athletic fields and outdoor recreation areas will be added. After that, a set of academic buildings will be created with the same open, collaborative mindset as the rest of the master plan. The academic building corridor will move across Chevrolet Avenue connecting both sides with an enclosed bridge, which will also be an active space with classrooms and other usable space.

“Kettering University’s master plan is highly ambitious, but very appropriate for the opportunities that the campus and the surrounding community have here in the 21st century,” said Flint Mayor Dayne Walling. “Universities have recognized that they thrive and offer a higher-quality experience to their students, faculty and staff when they’re in vibrant, mixed-used environments. So it’s great to see Kettering University embracing that and being prepared to work with a wider community.”

Community impact

All phases of the master plan include pedestrian corridors that flow toward the downtown area. The master plan shows safe, walkable pathways move throughout the campus, across Chevrolet Avenue, down University Avenue, past Atwood Stadium, connecting Kettering University to downtown and resources such as University of Michigan. It builds off what Kettering has already invested in the community. Since Kettering McMahan arrived on campus in 2011, the university has purchased more than 100 properties, many of them abandoned and blighted.

Many properties have been razed and turned into green space.

Previously, Kettering acquired a property on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Grand Traverse Street and razed the abandoned building, turning the property into green space. Last year, Carriage Town Ministries transformed a vacant lot on the northeast corner of University and Grand Traverse into a park. When McMahan took over, he instantly began thinking about how the private university could impact the Flint community.

Before coming to Kettering, McMahan had started a technology company that grew global, served as senior science and technology adviser to North Carolina’s governor and was a top strategist for a private venture capital organization funded by the CIA. In North Carolina, McMahan had to understand how universities can impact a community, especially when it came to technology and engineering. And that fit in perfectly with what could be done here in Flint.

Fixing up and maintaining the historic Atwood Stadium is part of the overall community vision of the university as well, McMahan said. “We are very intimately tied to the community. Our history is a shared history. Our legacy is a shared legacy,” McMahan said. “This is a city that has reinvented itself several times over the course of history. … We are delighted to be a part of it.”

University of Michigan-Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego said she believes the new Kettering master plan will be beneficial to the revitalization of the community. “I think anything we can do that makes that bridge more areas downtown, that encourages people downtown is wonderful,” Borrego said. “It’s exciting. We’re still all new enough that we’re getting our hands around where our organizations can partner.

“We all share the commitment. We share the commitment to downtown, but larger than that we share the commitment to Flint.” UM-Flint is also taking a fresh look at its strategic planning to see how it can engage more in the community and along University Avenue corridor. It’s not just about revitalization and beautification, but also about providing space for the community to learn in a higher education environment.

At Kettering, when space in the current Academic Building opens up as some programs move into the Learning Commons, that space will be converted into community and pre-college spaces. The space will give pre-college students and under-served students access to a leading STEM institution and labs at young ages by adding partnership opportunities with schools and organizations. That has already begun with the creation of the FIRST Robotics Community Center, but McMahan said it will expand past that.

Reaching out to students at an early age, such as sixth or seventh grade or sooner, can make a major impact in school and career choices, he said. There will also be performance space and an auditorium to offer more services to the community. “It’s important because as a higher education institution, I believe very strongly that we have an obligation to engage,” McMahan said. “And we’re all members of this community. Faculty, staff are members of this community. … What Kettering does matters. What the other higher education institutions do, matters.

“No one entity on its own can fix everything. But working together, we can fix everything.” It’s not just about seeing Kettering grow. It’s about doing their part to help see Flint comeback and be successful. Walling said Kettering’s vision will continue to bring growth in the community.

“The new Kettering University vision and master plan will greatly benefit the wider community through increased economic development, greater housing options and better-maintained open space through the entire University Avenue corridor,” Walling said. “I was extremely impressed by the creativity of the plan and how it uses the university’s position on University Avenue and along the Flint River. The plan redefines what the University Avenue and Flint River corridor can be in the 21st century.”

Kettering and UM-Flint are also involved in a $1 million grant that will help fight crime along University Avenue corridor. Other projects are taking place to match Kettering’s effort in buying up blighted projects. Most recently, the spray-painted, crumbling building formerly known as the Burroughs mill was purchased, along with four adjacent properties just south of the Flint River along Grand Traverse Street. In the end, the universities have a responsibility to the community, McMahan said. The Kettering master plan reflects the potential of the university and the community.

“I came to understand very strongly and deeply the power of the universities to help reshape the communities. It’s a win-win for both the community and the university. And it’s a team effort with all four higher education institutions,” McMahan said. “It’s an investment and recognition of the potential of the institution. … The wonderful thing about this community is so many people are investing.”

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