City of Laramie officials asked University of Wyoming officials last week to develop a long-range vision for its expansion that will allow the city to accommodate utility needs for the coming decades.
That request came amid the city’s plan to vacate Lewis Street as several blocks north of UW’s historic northern boundary are integrated into the campus’s core.
Currently, a water main runs along the entire stretch of Lewis Street adjacent to UW’s campus. However, UW officials are planning to turn that part of Lewis Street, at least as far east as 13th Street, into a wooded corridor for pedestrians.
City Engineer Eric Jaap said the city’s utility system “has started to become more complex” as UW moves north.
“It can also be very costly and difficult to meet the university’s expansion needs,” he said.
City Manager Janine Jordan said moving that water main to Bradley Street “makes sense today,” but city officials want to know whether they’d come to regret moving a water main to a street that UW could one day try to envelop.
“Keep in mind the fact that the decisions we make today could be short-sighted for UW and other customers if you are planning an eventual expansion north of Bradley,” she said.
When UW’s Board of Trustees approved a landscaping plan for Lewis Street in July, Trustee Kermit Brown said, “it may not be very long until something’s going to have to go across Bradley, because right now, we’ve run out of room on Lewis Street.”
The comments from Jaap and Jordan came at August’s meeting of the UW Housing Task Force, a legislative committee tasked with planning more than $300 million of new dormitories on campus.
The city had no representation on that committee last year but was able to get the Legislature to at least add Mayor Joe Shumway as a member during the 2019 session.
While UW has typically made expansion plans “in a piecemeal fashion in order to serve a specific building,” Jordan said, it would be good for the university to narrow in on plans that stretch out for decades, especially as the task force narrows in on locations for the new dorms, which Jordan called “Laramie’s single largest public improvement project in 100 years.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the task force approved the demolition of Wyoming Hall and the construction of at least two new dorms on that site.
The parking lot east of the Wyoming Union is expected to serve as the staging area for the work, which is likely to begin in early 2020.
Shumway said it would be helpful for the city to know, as soon as possible, what the geographical perimeter of the construction site will be so the city has time to prepare for any impact on 15th Street.
“Our concern is just to make sure not to overwhelm the neighborhoods,” Shumway said.
The discussion about the strain UW is placing on city utilities came after city staff were asked to present their plans for Ivinson Avenue.
The task force has recommended UW build a parking garage on the site of a current parking lot between Ivinson and Grand avenues, directly south of Old Main.
The city’s design plans for a reconstruction of Ivinson Avenue, between Ninth and 15th streets, have been sitting on the shelf for several years now after Wyoming’s economic downturn in 2016 led state funding for such projects to dry up, leaving little hope the city will be able to imminently move forward on the multi-million dollar rebuild.
The city’s designs for Ivinson Avenue would make the road more pedestrian-friendly, add bike lanes and move some existing parking to side streets.
Jordan told the Laramie Boomerang the city will likely need to decide within the next two years whether it will scrap its reconstruction plans.
“Ivinson is in terrible condition, and it’s been in terrible condition for 10 years now,” she said. “These plans can’t wait much longer. Either the city and the university are going to have to come together on these or the city is just going to come in and resurface the street.”
The sewer and storm lines running under Ivinson Avenue are also an example of why the city needs to understand UW’s long-range plans, Jaap said last week.
Those sewer lines are already running at capacity, Jaap said, and the new dorms on 15th Street might exacerbate the issue.
“The Ivinson lines were never designed to handle what they’re currently taking on,” Jaap said.