‘Town meets gown’ in UL plan for city centre campus

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

Prof Don Barry, president, University of Limerick, signs the loan agreement with the European Investment Bank as EIB vice-president Jonathan Taylor and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan look on at Plassey House this Monday morning. Picture: Alan Place.
THE University of Limerick’s plans to develop a city centre campus will see 500 students based full-time in the heart of the city.

THE University of Limerick’s plans to develop a city centre campus will see 500 students based full-time in the heart of the city.

And UL president Prof Don Barry said the capital plan also included “a student residential facility of 400 bedroom units” in the city centre.

But this, he added, could rise to 1,000 units in partnership with Mary Immaculate College and Limerick Institute of Technology “subject to feasibility and funding”.

Of the €224 million UL will spend on capital projects between now and 2018, almost one third will be spent off its main campus - at University Hospital Limerick and in the city centre.

“I have said on numerous occasions,” Prof Barry underlined, “that my vision for the future in terms of the university and city is that we would have hundreds of UL students learning, living and recreating in the city centre and that is what we have here.”

Greater transport links between the town and Plassey would also mean a more visible student presence in the heart of the city centre as it aims to turn itself around under the Limerick 2030 vision. “That would mean students in the city from six in the evening until six in the morning – if I know anything about students,” said the university president, with a smile.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said that the way in which cities interact with their universities has been a topic of debate since medieval times.

“It generally goes under the heading of the town and the gown debate. We have our own town and gown debate in Limerick and I am delighted that the initiative has been taken now to have a significant part of the university functioning in the city centre. It fits totally with our idea of a living city, a reconstructed city that doesn’t close down at five in the evening. We are not over-emphasising it, because it is only one part of the plan, but it is something that I think will be appreciated by the people of Limerick,” the minister said.

While no site had been identified as yet, Minister Noonan suggested the derelict Opera Centre site purchased by Limerick City Council was an “obvious” possibility.

“We all know how important the [Limerick 2030] plan is for the rebuild of the new city in effect. And we are very pleased that the president has announced there will be a significant university presence in the city centre – I presume in the Opera site there opposite the Hunt Museum. Not only would it be a student residence and accommodation but also an academic building catering for up to 500 students,” he said.

Prof Barry, however, is not tying himself to a particular location at this juncture other than to confirm it will be in the city centre.

“We are the stage of planning this development in close consultation with the local authority who, as you can see from Limerick 2030 plan, have a planning exercise to engage in which is in some ways like trying to put a jigsaw together. There is a lot of interest on campus from the various disciplines to locate various activities in the city and the final decision on what goes where will be a matter for negotiation between the university and the city – and internally here at the university,” Prof Barry said.

And the prospect of a school or faculty making the move across town was one that was attracting plenty of interest on campus, he added.

“I’m in a position where I have people queuing up asking me ‘Are we going to be part of the city centre?’” he said.

“I am damned if I am going to adjudicate on that here this morning. I want the academics who are interested in moving to the city to compete in terms of putting forward the most compelling vision for what they would do if they were in the city ... but we have lots of candidates who want to be in the city. That is not going to be the issue,” said Prof Barry.

He stressed that bringing the city closer to the university by improving transport links was also an issue that ought not be overlooked.

Editorial, page 16