While sometimes prone to butting heads, the relationship between the city and the University of Wyoming is an important one.
In a Town and Gown update to the Laramie City Council Tuesday, UW’s interim vice president for community affairs Chris Boswell noted that while the partnership between the city and the university “raises eyebrows once and a while,” the university, for the most part, feels the partnership is working well.
“Wyoming’s economy needs UW and needs a UW and city of Laramie partnership that will weather the occasional rough spots which we all recognize,” Boswell said during the work session.
One of the primary initiatives for the city and university this school year is the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census. University students who live in Laramie while taking classes full time at UW are to be counted in Laramie’s census, even if the student is originally from another part of Wyoming or even another state.
“That’s the way the census works; that’s not a choice of the university, that’s the policy of the census,” Boswell said. “We will do our best to encourage people to recognize that.”
The international population, too, is a census target group; Boswell said UW is working to explain to international students, faculty and researchers that, despite the “politically charged environment that we’re dealing with in Washington (D.C.),” they are to be counted here in Laramie.
“We’ve got to convince those folks as well that they do not risk deportation if they participate in the census,” Boswell said. “That is a very real concern for people here.”
Highlighting some of the successes of the Town and Gown relationship, Boswell noted UW’s continued use of Wyoming-based — and often Laramie-based — contractors for its seemingly endless construction efforts around campus.
He also praised the successful relationships with the city’s police and fire services, Albany County School District No. 1 and sponsored events like the Downtown Mashup and The Big Event volunteer day.
The relationship, however, still has its challenges, especially as dorm construction is set to begin with the demolition of Wyo Hall in early 2020.
Parking is a continued issue, especially as more spots are lost with the construction of new dorms and the university’s upcoming West Campus Satellite Energy Facility, which will heat and cool water for the recently constructed science and engineering buildings.
A parking garage will likely be constructed on campus to help recoup the lost spaces. Boswell, who noted his own parking space will be lost in the construction, also offered an alternative solution.
“A whole lot of people are going to have to get used to doing something that not enough of us do now which is take the bus,” he said. “It’s just a reality.”
Vice Mayor Pat Gabriel asked for an update on 15th Street after continued concerns the university plans to close or partially close the minor arterial street, especially looking toward UW’s upcoming new campus master plan.
“I’ll pass along the president’s thought,” Boswell said. “He’s been very much involved with the long-term master plan; he’s not interested in closing 15th Street.”
However, that drafted master plan envisions that the university will “prioritize” pedestrian movement across 15th Street, and the consulting firm crafting the master plan has suggesting the street be redesigned to slow traffic, including possible lane reductions and raised sidewalks.
Laramie city officials also raised concern about that prospect in a July 23 memo.
“If 15th Street is ‘calmed’ through this section, continual access by emergency responders must be maintained,” Laramie Police Chief Dale Stalder and Fire Chief Dan Johnson wrote. “If we reduce the number of north to south commute lanes, we are going to have increased crashes and vehicle driver conflicts. 15th Street is a major commute route and by forcing traffic to both, or either, 9th or 22nd Streets, the resulting volumes will have the effect of increasing vehicle conflicts during all commute times, and especially during rush hours.”
City officials warned that that possible lane closures on 15th would require increased traffic control measures to be implemented at 9th Street, including the removal of street parking.
“This is going to further reduce parking in an area where we already have extreme parking concerns,” Stalder and Johnson warned.
Boswell said during the work session that a future traffic light at the intersection of 22nd Street and Willet Drive could help with some of the potential traffic disruptions, and he’s “confident that it will be installed at some point despite some challenges associated with the UW contribution to improving that troublesome section.”
With any issue — for example, UW drilling test irrigation wells in east Laramie despite a city cease and desist letter — the state Legislature often has a hand in many of UW’s decision-making. Boswell noted UW was working under a legislative directive to find its own sources for irrigation for green spaces and athletic fields.
Although UW’s acting president Neil Theobald was unable to attend the work session to address the council himself, Boswell said the acting president “would like this relationship to remain strong” and Boswell has “confidence in his leadership going forward.”
“He has a good idea of where he wants to take the university,” he said. “Candidly, I hope he’s president for a good while.”