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Monday, July 28, 2014

Rivier University facelift coming along; new look to include stately signage

NASHUA – A comprehensive redesign and aesthetic upgrade to the campus of Nashua’s Rivier University that began taking shape on paper and slide shows more than two years ago is rapidly becoming reality.

As anyone driving past, or through, the 68-acre campus can attest, multiple construction crews are working simultaneously on several sites this summer, all part of a project designed to showcase the university’s two main gateways and give students, faculty and visitors alike a cleaner, sharper view as they make their way to the school’s various buildings. ...

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NASHUA – A comprehensive redesign and aesthetic upgrade to the campus of Nashua’s Rivier University that began taking shape on paper and slide shows more than two years ago is rapidly becoming reality.

As anyone driving past, or through, the 68-acre campus can attest, multiple construction crews are working simultaneously on several sites this summer, all part of a project designed to showcase the university’s two main gateways and give students, faculty and visitors alike a cleaner, sharper view as they make their way to the school’s various buildings.

“What we’re mainly focusing on is our gateways,” Rivier president Sr. Paula Buley said last week. “We want to showcase them, because they’re what everyone sees first when they come to the university.”

Hence the name “Gateway Project,” as coined by representatives of Derck & Edson Associates, a landscape architectural and engineering firm that specializes in designing college and university campuses and downtown areas.

While several sites campus-wide are undergoing improvement, the gateways – entrances at the Main/South Main streets roundabout and at the Muldoon Fitness Center near the intersection of South Main and Fairway streets – are a major focus, Buley said.

Under consideration is whether the sculpture in the middle of the roundabout will remain. Buley said city officials will make that determination.

The plan received approval from the city Planning Board in April, several months after university representatives and a project engineer presented a preliminary proposal. The board unanimously approved two requests, one for the proposed site plan for the campus itself and the other asking for a conditional use permit for the building at 2 Robinson Road, which the university purchased earlier this year from the firm Windmill International.

The Robinson Road building, which covers a 1.87-acre site across South Main Street from the main campus, has been renovated, and several staff members are in the process of adding finishing touches.

When complete, it will be the new home of several university departments, including career and academic services, wellness, student resources, the writing center, and development and alumni relations, Buley said.

Two older, worn buildings – the current writing center and Florence Hall – have been razed, opening up clearer lines of sight and making room for enhancements. One will be a new green space called Heritage Plaza, and another, the so-called sunken garden behind Madeleine and Regis halls, will undergo a makeover.

The garden also will be the new home for the university’s original front gate, a handsome iron-and-granite structure along South Main Street that has been obscured for years by trees.

The final OK the plan needed – approval from the Zoning Board to exceed the maximum square footage allowed for signs – was granted at its July 22 meeting. The request was divided into four agenda items – one for each proposed sign – all of which were approved.

Attorney Morgan Hollis, representing Rivier, said that although one of the proposed signs, at 53 square feet, would be considerably larger than the 12 square feet currently allowed in that area, the fact that it and the other signs will be professionally designed and set in granite and limestone will serve to enhance the landscape of the area rather than detract from it.

“We want to make it obvious to the public that they’re entering a university campus,” Hollis said. “These signs are designed to be part of a branding effort, which is very important to the campus.”

“In all four instances, the signs are larger but will be very close to the (maximum) height that’s allowed. Considering the size of the Gateway Project, the (size of the proposed) signs won’t be outrageous or overwhelming,” Hollis added.

Denying the request, he told the board, “would harm the public, the university and the city.”

Buley called the signs “architecturally scalable” to the campus’s buildings, meaning they won’t stick out as being too large, and the fact that designers are focusing on blending them into the natural landscape will further enhance their aesthetic value.

ZBA member Jack Currier agreed with the proposal, and that he feels the signs “are necessary for demarcation and branding” and “will likely increase property values of Rivier, and subsequently, the residences on Clement Street.”

Currier’s reference to Clement Street, where several university buildings are located, was partly in response to earlier comments by Richard Theriault, whose home at 5 Clement St. is essentially an island surrounded by university-owned property.

“With the college laying claim to everything between the signs, how will I know my property values won’t be affected?” Theriault asked the board, referencing the planned gateway signs at the roundabout and the Muldoon center.

“His property is definitely unique, surrounded by the campus,” Hollis, the attorney, responded. “I can’t say for sure property values won’t be affected, but I doubt (the project or the signs) would adversely affect the value of Mr. Theriault’s property.”

During board discussion, Currier cited the board’s approval some years ago of a similar sign request by Bishop Guertin High School.

“I’m glad we approved that variance,” he said. “It helped them.”

Members mulled the possibility that approving the request would set a precedent that other, non-educational entities could cite when requesting a variance. They subsequently agreed to amend Rivier’s approval, stipulating that should the campus buildings ever change hands to non-educational purposes, the variance would expire and would need to be resubmitted.

Buley, meanwhile, said the plan is to have work on the parking lots and most of the redesigned walkways done by the time students return in late August. The work near Madeleine Hall and on the new Heritage Plaza is scheduled for completion in November.

She said a dedication for the newly refurbished chapel and a campus-wide open house to showcase the renovations are in the works. The dates will be announced in the near future, she said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).