June 18, 2012
By MELISSA REPKO
UNIVERSITY PARK — In nearly every corner of Southern Methodist University, President R. Gerald Turner can point out signs of change.
From newly planted trees to the construction of five residential halls and a tennis complex, SMU is in the middle of a campus transformation. The 100-year-old university expects to complete about $375 million in building and renovation projects by the end of 2015 to support more students living on campus.
The projects are already changing the landscape on the eastern side of campus, where cranes and heavy equipment crawl over construction sites near Central Expressway — not far from where the George W. Bush Presidential Center has risen over the last 18 months.
SMU leaders hope the changes will be more than physical: They are symbolic of broader goals to boost university rankings, attract top students and faculty and become a greater academic and economic force in Dallas and the nation.
“SMU has a tremendously symbiotic relationship with the city,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “As it grows, the city grows, and as the city grows, it grows.”
Dallas Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes some SMU property, also supports the growth. She said more students living on campus could increase foot traffic and support mixed-used development east of Central Expressway.
“They bring a concentrated group of residents [to an area] — young people … who will frequent the local shops and restaurants. They bring an important educational hub to a city,” Hunt said. “ I consider it a Dallas city asset.”
Beyond 2015, SMU plans new academic buildings in the north part of campus and additional research space and residential halls for upperclassmen and graduate students across Central Expressway, near Mockingbird Station.
The plans mean nearly constant construction for the months and years ahead. Yet the projects have been mostly well-received by Highland Park neighbors closest to some of the current construction, said Beth Huddleston, a Beverly Drive homeowner whose daughter attends SMU.
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