Editorial: Master plan threatens UNH's image

By Editorial Board
On April 20, 2012


An article on the front page of this newspaper, titled "Audience heated at possible land use," details the worries of those who attended the campus master plan forums this past Tuesday. Equine students, in particular, are concerned that their program could be relocated, and the west edge of campus commercially developed. The fact is, this possibility should be a concern for all students at the university. 

UNH touts itself as a research university that has the atmosphere of a New England liberal arts college. And even as it has grown over the years, the university has retained that image. 

But the proposed changes would forever alter the landscape of the university. If this commercial development remains a part of the master plan, UNH risks losing more than the equine and dairy programs. It risks losing its identity. 

Approximately 35 acres near the dairy farm on the west edge of campus would be considered for development under the current master plan. 

Possibly replacing these agricultural fields would be retail stores and other commercial developments. The development of this land would run counter to current Durham zoning regulations. The west edge of campus would go from open farmland to concrete and strip malls. 

 Even if this development does not directly displace the equine or dairy programs, it would affect them negatively. As multiple students at the forum pointed out, retail stores and stables could never coexist next to each other. 

Another option would be relocating the equine program. That would mean a move west, closer to Route 4 and further from center of the university. 

Douglas C. Bencks, university architect and director of campus planning, pointed out that the possible relocation of the equine program was in the original master plan in 2004. But the program has tripled in size over the past eight years. A move down Main Street would be a step backward for the equine program. 

The development of these agricultural fields would also be an affront to the history of the university. UNH began in 1866 as an agricultural college in Hanover, N.H. It moved to Durham in 1893. A farmer named Benjamin Thompson, the namesake of the Thompson Hall, gave both land and money for the further development of the college. 

The university has obviously expanded since. But virtually every building that UNH has raised around Durham has been for student use, whether it's a dining hall, a dormitory, a research facility or otherwise. 

Now, the university is considering selling its soul, the farmland it was founded upon, as it deals with the financial burden of heavy budget cuts. 

President Mark Huddleston and other administrative figures have talked of finding alternative revenue streams. It's natural that they explore all options in their quest to keep UNH as affordable as possible. 

But the development of retail stores on land that supports university programs should not be considered any further. UNH risks losing its equine facilities, its dairy farm and its image as a New England liberal arts college in the development of its agricultural lands. 

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