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Student projects tackle Central site, DTA routes

University of Wisconsin-Superior students may have an answer to the question: "What will become of the Central High School site?"

They unveil the results of a semester's worth of surveys, studies and research at 3 p.m. Monday during in a public presentation in the Yellowjacket Union Great Room.

City Planner Jason Serck said he is looking forward to the event.

"It's nice to have a fresh perspective," especially on this particular site, he said.

"We understand it's a pretty active corner in Superior," Serck said. "It's someplace we want to make a mark on."

The roughly four-acre site is owned by the city, RJS Construction Group LLC and the Blaine Business Center, students said during a practice presentation this week. It stretches from business-friendly Belknap Street on the south to a residential lined street on the north. During their research, members of the Urban Planning and Transportation Systems class spoke with the current owners and surveyed UWS students on their housing and shopping needs. They will discuss a possible mix of uses for the site, including ways to connect it to the college campus and architecture styles that would blend in.

The course is offered to seniors every two years.

"We determine a project each time based on community need," said geography professor Randy Gabrys-Alexson, who teaches the course with transportation and logistics professor Richard Stewart. Past classes have tackled politically-sensitive topics like where to place the terminal for the proposed high-speed rail project between Minneapolis and Duluth and introducing state toll roads. By taking on real-life projects, Gabrys-Alexson said, students engage in academic service learning. They provide a service to the community while taking their learning to a new level.

"It's not a textbook exercise, it's a real-life exercise," said Stewart, who volunteers his time to team teach the class. "That gets them to think and begin to pull everything together in a much more holistic fashion."

They learn to work together as a team, something they will be expected to do on the job. They find that each issue has political components. And they have to produce high-quality work that can be presented to the public.

Along with the Central site, this year's class looked into Duluth Transit Authority bus route improvements that could increase ridership in the UWS area. To do so, they took a trip on the bus in sub-zero temperatures. For half of the class, it was their first trip on the bus. It led to suggestions for signage, route changes, a possible indoor bus stop and wooden seats instead of metal.

"The seats were really cold," said UWS senior Kara Gunderson. "I know because I sat on them."

They present their findings on possible DTA improvements at 4 p.m. in a separate but linked presentation at the Yellowjacket Union. The public is invited to attend both presentations.

Students in the course become highly invested in these projects, building connections that may serve them someday in the work world. But they don't have all the right answers, Stewart said.

"The students are not pontificating," he said. "They're wrestling with a problem that involves the community" and searching for answers.