The University of Wyoming campus — and the rest of Laramie — could look very different after changes are made to one of the city’s major thoroughfares, though that change could be a long time coming.
City of Laramie officials discussed with the UW Board of Trustees the possibility of closing the stretch of 15th Street running through the UW campus during the board’s meeting Friday.
“I think it’s important for the city and UW to work together on this,” Mayor Andi Summerville said. “I think it’s important to appreciate each other’s positions and talk about what the solutions are, what the practical solutions might be.”
In March, the State Legislature directed UW, in a footnote attached to the university’s budget, to meet with city officials about this potential closure.
While the footnote requires UW to respond to the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee no later than Nov. 1, trustees and Summerville agreed starting the project will likely take much longer.
Simply compiling public opinion and ensuring all parties have a chance to comment will take some time, the mayor said, adding she was working with ASUW President Ben Wetzel to do just that.
“It is very important we get the campus perspective — students, faculty, the staff, anyone who uses this campus,” Summerville said. “It’s also important to get the community perspective.”
During board committee reports Wednesday, Trustee and Legislative Relations Committee Chair Kermit Brown also talked about the difficulties of gathering public opinion, especially on such a big change.
“I anticipate, at least initially, a lot will be negative, and then I really think it’s an educational process where people have to go off and think about it,” he said. “Somebody said this might be a five-year project. I wouldn’t doubt it a bit. It might take that bit for public thinking to evolve and for the public to digest it.”
The original footnote calls for the closure of 15th Street between Willett Drive and Ivinson Avenue — a stretch of road that divides the Wyoming Union parking lot from Fraternity and Sorority Row and the residence halls. This would, the footnote states, “unify the campus and protect pedestrian traffic.”
But first responders use the road to access certain areas of campus when emergencies arise, so any discussion of closing 15th must include consideration of public safety, Summerville said.
“One of the other challenges here is 15th Street has some of the most dense infrastructure underneath it in the city,” she said. “It is really kind of a convergence of both public and private infrastructure.”
The cost of moving the pipes, lines and essential city infrastructure means the city could not possibly foot the bill by itself, the mayor said. This prohibitive construction cost is the same reason the city tabled plans to revamp Ivinson Avenue, which runs along the campus’ south side.
“We are in a very similar situation to UW in that Laramie is very financially challenged right now and similarly unable to take on a large rebuild of a street right now,” Summerville said.
As UW pens its response to legislators in time for the November deadline, Chris Boswell, vice president for governmental and community relations, said it would communicate these concerns.
“We will note that there are a number of questions and concerns by the city, and that have been raised by the city while we’ve been having what I would say are very active and very productive conversation,” Boswell said. “This is a real opportunity — a potential opportunity — to address what is a pretty significant issue, if you will, which is pedestrian safety and the unification of campus.”