In March 2004, President Horace Judson visited the campus of Grambling State University. He asked some students to give him a tour of Pinchback Hall, a visit he still remembers to this day.”I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said. “It made an impression. It became clear what we had to do.”
Almost four years later, the campus of GSU has undergone a transformation into the vision that Judson had.
This vision is all apart of the University Master Development Plan that is slated to be released in its entirety soon. The last update to the plan was released on the university’s website on Oct. 25.
The UMDP is being devised to “integrate all components of campus.”
“There will be a master plan for each department,” said Judson. “Academics have priority. The plan will have an education rationale. Phase II will see more features that encourage support and academic growth.”
Judson stated that Phase II of his UMDP will bring in 1,200 beds, some new buildings, landscaping improvements and a new library.
“We are the first campus to gauge this plan in the (University of Louisiana) System and probably the first in the state,” Judson said. “In my experience, I have not seen this approach before, not an integrated and detailed plan.
“From this point on,” he continued, “when we decide to do something, whatever decision we make will fit into the plan. It will be campus cohesive.”
Judson pointed out that some existing buildings have different designs, and they don’t really seem to fit a scheme.
“That’s what happens when you make isolated decisions,” he explained. “There’s a lot going on around campus. How can we integrate all of that? We developed a plan that encompassed all of the campus.”
Judson has been in constant talks with the faculty, staff, students and alumni of GSU to gather input on a UMPD. He has even called in subcontractors to help with the brainstorming of ideas for the UMDP.
“It was a new administration at an institution,” he said of the plan’s birth. “We were looking for a new direction and we had some outside funding. It was the right time for us to come in.”
With the plan already in progress, Judson has seen some of his work develop quicker than scheduled. The new dorms and union were not supposed to be finished. However, as of today, the new Tiger Village is standing firm, while the Union is nearing its final phase of renovation.
And, according to Judson, he has just started.
“This is just the beginning of it,” he explained. “At some point, there will be upgrades to the lights and signs. They will be upgraded for compatibility with the plan. We have standards on how things will look. It increases the quality of the campus. From this point, the buildings will be compatible.”
Shortly after Judson took the position of president, he was also taking widespread criticism from students, faculty, staff and alumni. Despite the movement to oust him, Judson has continued to move forward with his vision, rarely responding to the efforts.
“We have a procedure here,” he explained. “Everyone had an opportunity to have an input. We look for ideas.
“It’s OK to complain, but what’s the solution?”
One of the many complaints stem on the basis of Judson trying to change the skyline of GSU by ridding it of the high-rises, such as Jones, Wheatley, and Pinchback. The high-rises have been in place since before most students were born. With age, Judson explains, comes deteriorating conditions.
“High rises have become very poor living places,” he said. “The students didn’t want to live in them. We’re trying to build to suit the students. No one wants to use community bathrooms.”
Judson said he did try to consider keeping the skyline the same, but there was no way to “accommodate the high rises. It’s a different style and a different era. We are trying to retain our students.”
GSU has been recently trying its hardest to retain its students. Onveon.com, a website that allows visitors to research their schools of choice, shows GSU with a 57 percent retention rate for full-time students and 53 percent retention rate for part-time students. It also shows a 37 percent graduation rate.
Judson stated that the UMDP will allow a better overall educational experience, thus retaining students.
“We’re trying to accomplish education. We need buildings that will help accommodate the educational experience. We’re trying to provide educational experience from kindergarten to college.”
While one of the main focuses is on improving the living quality of the students, Judson also sees GSU’s educational structure as unique.
“We have a long history of teacher education,” he said. At one point, it was all we produced. The idea is to have an integrated education. We want to link our students into the educational system. We want a higher quality of teachers for high education.”
Judson’s plan is to rebuild the lab schools away from the campus with state of the art accommodations. “I believe this is a very unique approach to education.”
Even with his current work, Judson feels the campus is still not where it needs to be.
“It isn’t beautiful to have cars all over the campus,” he said. “There’s a difference from walking in a park and walking in a parking lot. This place would be more beautiful if there were no cars. There are no disadvantages to having a pedestrian campus.”
One of Judson’s plan is to eventually get the shuttle buses up and running again. He also wants to add sidewalks and get rid of the power lines that line the sky. Judson also noted that the leaves of the new trees will turn gold in the fall, adding color to the campus.
Judson also noted that he is working with the city to help make downtown more aesthetic as well. The UMDP also includes some upgrades to the remaining dorms, such as Garner, Hunter-Robinson, Jewett, and Richmond Hall.
Judson said Phase II will take nearly 14 months to complete, and then, his vision for campus housing will be nearing fruition.
“No one will ever be able to say that they don’t want to live in the old dorms,” Judson said. “Inside of two years, there will be no undesirable housing.