Smith Plaza at UNM getting a face-lift - Albuquerque Journal

Smith Plaza at UNM getting a face-lift

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University of New Mexico interim President Chaouki Abdallah speaks during the Smith Plaza ground-breaking ceremony on Thursday. Construction of the plaza next to Zimmerman Library is scheduled to continue through the summer. (Marla Brose/Journal)

About 10,000 people pass through Smith Plaza every day, but few have any reason to stop there – despite its location at the heart of the University of New Mexico campus.

Officials expect a major redesign will change that.

Crews from Jaynes Corp. this month began a $3 million overhaul of the heavily trafficked space between Zimmerman Library and the Student Union Building. The transformation will turn the sun-baked, brick-paved area into a greener, shadier space where officials hope students might actually congregate – whether to study or socialize.

“It’s going to be so much better in terms of drawing people to the center of campus,” interim UNM President Chaouki Abdallah said Thursday during a groundbreaking ceremony.

Project manager Aaron Zahm from Albuquerque-based MRWM Landscape Architects said the plaza’s original design was meant to invoke European plazas but “unfortunately made it a gathering space that nobody gathers in – it’s just sort of inhospitable.”

An artist’s rendering of the redesign of Smith Plaza shows a greener meeting space that will follow a $3 million renovation expected to be completed by August. (Courtesy of University Of New Mexico)

He said the redesigned space will cater to the “modern student,” including moveable furniture they can arrange to suit their mood or immediate needs. While the new layout will still accommodate groups and bigger events – like the traditional holiday-season “hanging of the greens” – those who want a little more seclusion should be able to find that too.

“We wanted to break it up more and make small spaces that a student who is just coming through might be enticed to stop,” Zahm said.

The new design – which eliminates most of the stairs – should also limit recreational skateboarding activity, which officials said had become a safety concern on the plaza.

Construction should wrap in August.

UNM will fund the renovation with institutional bond money from 2016 and 2017, but continues to seek donations to further enhance the design and is also offering naming rights to various features.

Smith Plaza will incorporate various recycled materials from around campus. Construction crews are salvaging some of the existing brick pavers for use in parts of the new plaza. Columns from a demolished-reservoir at the southern edge of campus will be used to make plaza benches, Zahm said.

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