The University of Latvia (UL) has set the expansion of the Academic Centre as one of its strategic goals in the period until 2027. UL will create a new urban ecosystem that will unite studies, research and innovation, preserving the elements of natural habitats and implementing the concept of a university environment open to residents of Riga and guests of the city.

In the House of Sciences of the University of Latvia (UL) on December 6, the discussion "The future of the University in the thicket of Tornakalns" took place, in which the rector of the UL prof. Indrikis Muiznieks, director of the House of Letters , project of the Academic Center Development Program of UL, Janis Ploks, deputy chairman of Riga City Council Vilnis Kirsis, city planner Neils Balgalis and head of the Social Department of the UL Student Council Renars Kairis.

"Tornakalns was chosen as the place for the creation of the Academic Center after a long search - at one time several other options were also evaluated, including Rumbula, Kleisti, Saliena parish, Mukusala neighborhood. Finally, we chose Tornakalns, where the National Library and "Rail Baltica" is nearby, as this place will naturally become one of the new centers of Riga," said I. Muiznieks.

According to him, the strategic goals of the University are implemented by teaching staff and students, but their work also requires a modern, motivating environment - the Academic Centre, where ideas can be created and supported for their implementation. "In this way, we will solve many practical problems, including increasing the university's competitiveness, contributing not only to education, but also to the economy and the life of society. The Academic Centre will help consolidate research and study programs, which are currently scattered in various buildings on the right bank of the river Daugava. It will ensure environmental accessibility, energy efficiency, implementation of the European Green Deal and implementation of the smart city model." emphasized I. Muiznieks.

The House of Nature and the House of Sciences have already opened their doors in the Academic Centre in Tornakalns; the future House of Letters will be opened in 2023; the House of Technology, House of Students and Guest, House of Sports, House of Health and the Green University project are in the planning stage. The development program of the Academic Center will also be complemented by the renovation of the existing LU service hotels and the House of Palms of the UL Botanical Garden, as well as the renovation of the University's historical building on Raina boulevard.

Jānis Ploks said that the House of Letters will gather as many students, lecturers, and other visitors as there are people staying in the entire neighborhood of Tornakalns together. Humanities and social sciences, as well as teachers' studies, will be held in the house of writings, and scientific institutes that study Latvian history, society, Latvian language and culture will also move there.

"The UL Academic Centre will be a part of Riga's knowledge mile. Innovations in terms of energy efficiency will also be used in its creation, such as solar panels and thermopiles to obtain heat from the depths of the earth and conduct heat into the ground during summer," added J. Ploks.

Speaking about the infrastructure of the UL Academic Centre, R. Kairis emphasized the need to make this area more accessible by using public transport in cooperation with the Riga municipality. Several thousand students are already studying in Tornakalns, and the number will increase significantly in the coming years, but the use of private transport in the city is neither economically justified nor in line with green thinking.

N. Balgalis proposed to create a pedestrian path that would connect the UL Academic Centre with the Tornakalns railway station as the simplest, albeit temporary, solution. V. ķirsis agreed that the pedestrian path would be a good and correct decision, however, in a longer term, the opportunities to get to the station by public transport should be improved, and possibly in further future, the infrastructure will also include a tram directly from the station to the UL Academic Centre.

"The most convenient transport is currently provided by train, and it should be used more. At the moment, we do not really consider the train as public transport - that should be changed. The Ministry of Transport has finally bought new trains, and I see a future for this form of transport, the Riga City Council is also investing a lot of money and energy in it," said V. Kirsis.

Both V. Kirsis and N. Balgalis admitted that arranging the transport infrastructure takes time - at least five to ten years, so connections with the existing public transport modes, including the railway, could initially be ensured directly by a pedestrian path. The Riga City Council will also continue work on the creation of a bicycle path, which will connect all the objects of the Knowledge Mile in the future. In the near future, the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Kileven trench, connecting the Academic Centre with Mukusala Street, will begin.

The implementation of the development of the UL Academic Centre began in 2013, when the contract for the construction of the House of Nature was signed. In the first two buildings - the House of Nature and the House of Sciences - a total of around 70 million euros have already been invested in the construction, furnishing and equipment. The third, the House of Letters, will need around 48 million euros. Further, the third stage, the Houses of Technology, Health, Sports and Student Houses - another approximately 120 million euros.

According to the data collected by the University of Latvia, the total income of those faculties, which are already mostly located in Tornakalns, in 2021 was 11 million euros more than in 2017, including the fact that project funding increased by almost 6 million euros.

The discussion was organized by the UL Alumni Club and the UL Student Council  in cooperation with the University of Latvia.