After seven years, Moody College sky bridge almost a reality

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosales and Partners

For Roderick Hart, dean of the Moody College of Communication, the sky bridge that will connect the Belo Center for New Media to the Jones Communication Center will serve both functional and symbolic purposes. 

The funding for the pedestrian bridge came as part of the Moody Foundation of Galveston’s $50 million donation to the college in October 2013, when the college became its namesake. Slated for completion by December 2015, the bridge will stretch across Dean Keeton Street, connecting the second floor of the Belo Center to the fourth floor of Communication Buildings A and B. Hart said the structure will serve as a gateway to the campus and as a visual connector for the college.

“The bridge has always been important to me,” Hart said. “My main concern was to kind of pull the College of Communication back together physically and visually.”

Before the Belo Center opened in November 2012, the college’s faculty shared cramped quarters in the two Jones Communication Center buildings, known as the CMA and CMB. Since the college expanded across Dean Keeton Street — creating a physical division — Hart said his goal has been to maintain the collegial bond between the college’s various departments.

“My concern was that we would lose that sense of connection with one another,” Hart said. “The departments have always gotten along really well.”

Of the $50 million donated by the Moody Foundation, $3 million is going toward construction of the sky bridge and other renovations.

The $3 million budget was a challenge for both Hart and bridge architect Miguel Rosales, who was selected by the Faculty Building Advisory Committee to design the structure.

“I frankly didn’t think we could get something this beautiful for that amount of money, so I’m delighted,” Hart said. “That’s the great value of having someone like Miguel, who can make something look quite elegant and grand yet not have it cost an excessive amount of money.”

Rosales, based in Boston, said the bridge is his first project located in Austin. A main feature of the bridge is its towering center columns, which will serve as the primary support for the walkway.

“I had to try to work within the budget, and I did my best to balance the engineering and aesthetic concerns with the cost,” Rosales said. “I think we achieved a good balance in designing something the school can afford, but, in the same way, something that’s going to be an exciting structure that the students will like to see and cross.”

In August, Hart announced that he will resign from his post in May 2015 after a decade as dean. Hart said securing funding for the sky bridge, along with the construction of the Belo Center, have been high points of his tenure as dean. Hart’s push for funding took nearly seven years to come to fruition. The sky bridge idea bloomed in 2007, when Hart secured funding for the Belo Center, and the Board of Regents approved the project.

“The bridge has always been something that’s been in the back of my head, and we would’ve built it if we had had an extra $3 million when we built Belo,” Hart said.

Severine Halls, senior project manager in UT System’s Office of Facilities Planning & Construction, said the original building plans incorporated the sky bridge.

“We completed design for the Belo Center and the KUT facility with the engineering necessary to ensure that if the dean was successful in securing funding, we knew exactly where the bridge would connect the two complexes of buildings as was his original intent,” Halls said.

It took several months for Hart to negotiate the Moody Foundation donation, beginning with a February 2013 conversation over dinner with foundation trustee Ross Moody. The college received the funds for the bridge, scholarships and renovations to the Jones Communication Center.

Completed in 1972, the Jones Communication Center is marked by the prominent cement grid design of CMA. Nearly 40 years later, the Belo Center architects aimed to construct a complementary structure, according to architecture professor Larry Speck.

“In the design of the new building, they did a good job of having some dialogue back with the old one but not feeling that they had to slavishly replicate something from before,” Speck said. “Dean Keeton [Street] is a big street, and it’s kind of a divider, but I think the bridge will be helpful in knitting the two buildings together both functionally and visually.”

Speck said the bridge might help alleviate both vehicular and pedestrian traffic at Dean Keeton Street and Guadalupe, as well as Dean Keeton Street and Whitis Avenue, two of the busiest intersections on campus.

“Hart would like to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people within those two separate complexes to interact with each other, and he’s smart to do that,” Speck said.

Bridge construction will result in detours for both drivers and pedestrians on Dean Keeton Street. For street closures, Christopher Johnson, development assistance center manager for the City of Austin, said the city requires project engineers to provide a detailed traffic control plan that is then reviewed by the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Obviously, they’d want to minimize the construction to either as few lanes or as short a time as possible,” Johnson said. “But for something like that, there’s no way around it. You cannot safely build something like this and still have a road functioning.”

With a semester left as dean and a year until the bridge is to be completed, Hart said he looks forward to using the bridge as a member of the faculty.

“I will love walking across it and looking at it, even though I won’t be the dean at that time,” Hart said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version.