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Library Mall projects to connect State Street, campus

MADISON, Wis. - A majority of University of Wisconsin-Madison students have never seen the Hagenah fountain in Library Mall turned on, nor have they been able to walk directly through the space on their way to Memorial Union, and it is unlikely that they will be able to see or do these things anytime soon.

Library Mall and the connecting portion of State Street are two areas slated for development in the coming years. But it is a "tricky" project, according to city Principal Engineer Chris Petykowski, because both UW-Madison and the city of Madison are involved.

"The idea was that we would work on a design that meshes together well in the two spaces," Petykowski said.

Just where Library Mall ends and State Street begins is often confusing. Library Mall is the area that runs between the Historical Society and Library Mall, flanked by Memorial Union and the clock tower. The area from Lake Street to Park Street, which includes the bookstore food cart parking area and continuing toward the foot of Bascom Hill, makes up the 700 and 800 blocks of State Street.

The two areas are owned by different entities and are both scheduled for redevelopment projects, but the city is working with the university to create a cohesive space.

The overarching goal for Library Mall is to be an "all-year destination," Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8 said.

City planner and project manager Bill Fruhling said Library Mall is "integral" to the space, and most people do not know the difference between the university-owned and city-owned property, so developing a plan that combines both areas effectively is important.

"We wanted to think of the spaces together, so when the university is ready, the spaces will work together and be seamless in the way the public perceives them," Fruhling said.

The city allocated $4.9 million to reconstruct the 700 and 800 blocks of State Street. After construction is completed, there will be more lighting, an open space for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel through and ample space for food carts, trees and seating areas.

Fruhling said the city's plan addresses many of problems found on the lower end of State Street, such as lighting and the concrete stage area that operates as an obstacle to pedestrian and bicyclist traffic.

"I think that the space kind of right now works at some levels in spite of itself and in spite of the design, but it works best during lunch hour," Fruhling said. "But the rest of the time, it is kind of dead."

While the city currently has the budget for the State Street project and plans to begin construction in April 2014, the university does not have the funding it needs to continue with Library Mall redevelopment.

Gary Brown, director of campus planning and landscape architecture at the university, said there will not be a set timeline for the project until the university receives enough funding from private donors. After that, the university will have to gain final project approval from the state.

The university is working from three project designs, which were presented to stakeholders at community meetings.

The oval design would keep Library Mall similar to how it is today, with the area centered around a lawn feature. This design would also keep the possibility of a water feature open.

A second design would create a great lawn in the center of Library Mall with sidewalks framing the grassy area. A water feature would run along the west side of Memorial Library.

The preservationist plan is the historic renovation option. This proposal keeps the Hagenah fountain in the middle of Library Mall and widens sidewalks to allow for increased pedestrian and bike traffic.

Library Mall is currently affected by construction on the Historical Society, a state-owned building, and the Memorial Union Reinvestment Project, but these projects are separate from the Library Mall and State Street renovation projects.

Brown said the university plans to follow the historical renovation plan until it receives enough funding to go through with a much larger renovation project.

From serving as a campsite after World War II to a parking lot in the ‘50s and a speaking venue for President Barack Obama in 2010, Library Mall is a place for the community to come together.

Ultimately, Brown said the university wants to make Library Mall the "large public gathering space" it has always been.

Abby Becker
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