Representatives from across the university participated in brainstorming sessions this week to inform planning of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the larger 65-acre mixed-use district that it will anchor in Alexandria, Virginia.

Planning a new campus surrounded by an urban neighborhood and commercial district offers many opportunities and options. Should there be flexible event halls, co-working spaces, business incubators, and a hotel? And what about coffee shops, restaurants, a Trader Joe’s, boutique fitness clubs, or even a dog park?

These questions and many others were on the table — and posted on the walls — during three themed work sessions focused on the new graduate campus planned for National Landing. During each session, at least 13 people representing many areas of Virginia Tech, including student affairs, Hokie Wellness, and various academic departments, gathered around tables with posters, stickers, and Post-it notes. Their task: Generate suggestions of businesses, amenities, and academic spaces that would be located within the district and best complement the Innovation Campus.

The campus was announced last year as part of the tech-talent pipeline package created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and approved by the General Assembly to attract Amazon to build its HQ2 in Northern Virginia. Earlier this year, the university issued a public Request For Proposal to provide design services for the campus’s first academic building. The contract will be awarded later this year.

The campus will be located on 15 acres south of the Four Mile Run stream that separates Alexandria and Arlington and near the future Potomac Yard Metrorail Station. It will join a district developed by Lionstone Investments and real estate investment trust JBG SMITH.

“We have a side-by-side seat with the developer of this district,” said Liza Morris, assistant vice president for planning and university architect at Virginia Tech. “This is our opportunity to voice what we would like to see there.”

Currently, there is a retail center, anchored by Target, at the site, but it will be redeveloped in the future. The first Innovation Campus academic building is expected to be complete by 2024, Morris said. The first class of master’s degree students will enroll in the fall of 2020 in existing start-up space adjacent to where the campus eventually will be built.

Maps used during Innovation Campus brainstorming sessions

Two representatives from Sasaki, a Boston-based architecture firm that has worked on past Virginia Tech plans, led the workshops. Each meeting had a different theme — livable communities; services, retail, and collaboration spaces; and core academic programs.

Groups of four to six people huddled around tables, with a charge to contemplate what amenities students would like to have near the new campus. Discussions centered on everything from adding healthcare services to a rock-climbing gym.

In the final brainstorming workshop, participants focused on the needs for specific academic programs and spaces for learning at the Innovation Campus. The areas should be flexible and high tech, Greg Havens, a principal with Sasaki, told the group.

Options included faculty offices, research labs, workspaces for partners, project rooms, and places to work outdoors. Several people discussed the need for open work spaces, and outdoor areas where students and faculty can charge phones and laptops and even hold classes.

“You feel like a lot of people are involved and you have a voice,” said Cliff Shaffer, a professor in the Department of Computer Science who participated in the workshops. “We have a big role to play here.”

Input and ideas from people across campus is vital, Morris said.

“Collaboration doesn’t just start once the district and campus is built out, and we are using these spaces,” she said. “It starts early in the process.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone