The beauty of Queens campus has been one of the university’s biggest selling points to prospective students. However, many still don’t know who is behind the curtain, orchestrating the plans to transform the campus while preserving its beauty.
The man behind the plan is Bill Nichols, who joined Queens six years ago with the intent of creating a master plan. It will govern campus development for many years to come and will involve growth and change on the Main Campus, the Sports Complex, Fifth Street and North Residence hall, including landmarks already under construction – the Rogers Science & Health Building and the Levine Center for Wellness and Recreation.
For Nichols, these multi-million dollar projects and large-scale landscape changes are just the beginning of his vision, and he’s enjoying every minute of making it happen. “It’s just a passion of mine,” he says. “I love construction; I love building and I love architecture.”
When Nichols came to Queens, he was no stranger to designing for the college setting. He previously worked as a partner with Lee-Nichols Architecture and specialized in university projects, including on much larger campuses including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
But it was important to him to start with a completely new slate. “The first thing I did when I came here, was I sat down and interviewed faculty, staff, students, alumni,” he says. “I did over 100 interviews, just trying to learn what exactly the needs were here.”
The first projects were mostly renovations based upon these findings, such as turning the bottom of Morrison from a storage room into the dining alternative that is now the Lions Den. At the same time, Harris House was fixed up and the admissions office was moved there from a 2,000-square-foot block underneath Burwell. West Residence Hall was also renovated to match the classic Georgian style of the first buildings ever built on campus.
The projects were about to get a lot bigger. As he had done for many campuses before, Nichols developed a master plan for Queens, a process that took roughly a year. “We presented the master plan to the Board of Trustees in the Spring of 2006, and they approved it,” he says.
Queens is well-known in the Myers Park community for its calm atmosphere, and naturally some concern was expressed over the magnitude of construction that would be taking place all at once. The Rogers Science building broke ground in May, and the Levine Center and new parking deck are now taking shape as well. Yet the majority of the concern among students has been not about the construction itself, bu the appearance of the campus when construction is completed.
“The aesthetic appeal was actually a huge deciding factor in my choice to attend this school,” says Taylor Park, a freshman and Teaching Fellow. “I had a lot of other options, but Queens’ small, old, historic feel allowed me to see myself living year for the next four years.”
Senior William Ward III had similar feelings when he came to school almost four years ago. “When I first set foot on campus, it was very small, yet homey, and that’s what made the institution attractive to me. With these changes, and I think they’re wonderful changes, I think that’s going to attract more students. I only hope that we continue to have that homey, close family feeling.”
Nichols agrees it’s important to preserve the feeling. “Just like I went to University of Virginia because of what the campus looked like, I think young people today make that same kind of decision.”
Asked how it feels to be in charge of a university’s growth for the next 10 or so years, he replies with a smile, “I’m just glad to be a part of the process, being a part of the leadership. It’s going to be an amazing place when all of these buildings are done. I wish I could be a student here.”