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A complex case of repurposing Sharples

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

Dining halls shape your college experience. Not only does it provide you with the food you need to sustain your daily routine, it also serves as a social space where students can relax, hang out together, or meet new faces they have never seen on a daily basis. With this importance in mind, we can see how Sharples, as the only dining hall at Swarthmore, influences the social dynamic within our institution. Therefore, when Swarthmore announced its plan on November 28 to construct a new dining hall and convert Sharples into a student union, everyone should supposedly feel delighted. Finally, we will have better food. Finally, we need not rush to Sharples right after our last morning class. Finally, we can linger at our dining table as much as we want because our new dining hall is large enough for every student. This article argues that these dining hall improvements are unlikely to happen if Swarthmore pursues its current construction plan. Therefore, Swarthmore should situate the student union inside the new building and renovate Sharples instead.

To begin with, let’s examine the two arguments in support of building a new dining hall: Sharples is overcrowded because it supports only 900 students, and it does not support individualized cooking. Both arguments may not necessarily be the case. Indeed, it is true that the number of Swarthmore students exceeds the maximum capacity of Sharples. However, not all students dine at the same time. Consider two students, the first’s morning class ends at 11:10AM on Tuesday, and the second’s morning class ends at 12:35PM. Even if both students usually have lunch, they will rarely have lunch at the same time because of their schedule. Moreover, Swarthmore has many dining options aside from Sharples: Indian and Chinese food ordered from off campus providers in Kohlberg and the Science Center, and some grab-and-go food both at Sharples and beside SCI199. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that Sharples has to serve lunch to 1500 students simultaneously. Because Sharples is less crowded during breakfast and dinner, the same reasonings still hold. From my experience, even when Sharples becomes extremely crowded, the maximum time I spend waiting on the line is less than ten minutes and I never have trouble finding a place to sit. Therefore, simply because the new dining hall would serve more students does not sufficiently justify its construction. The congestion is not as severe as it is portrayed.

Moving on the second argument: Sharples does not support individualized cooking. This argument is true for current Sharples; offering an individualized cooking in a dining hall where students occasionally have to spend ten minutes to get food is impractical. However, if Swarthmore wishes to offer individualized cooking, the College can simply renovate Sharples, for instance, by relocating some of the tables more closely with one another. There are many unoccupied spaces that can potentially be renovated to create an individualized cooking space. Even if this individualized cooking space may not be as spacious as those at our peer institution, it can still be created.

With the idea that Sharples’ condition is not as severe as people usually claim established, this article will argue that the geography of current Sharples makes it difficult to have any broad space necessary for a student union. As of now, Sharples has the two floors: the upper floor has two meeting rooms, whereas the first floor serves food and provides tables for its guests. Recognize that both the meeting rooms upstairs are relatively small in comparison to other areas inside Sharples. Therefore, if Swarthmore proceeds with its proposed plan, the first floor at current Sharples will be the heart of the new student center. What does this mean? The two rooms (salad bar and Room 004) on the first floor are so disconnected from other sections that they will hardly be of any use. For such sections as the food service and the quieter dining room, they are not large enough for students to gather together. With these constraints of current Sharples, it can be concluded that Swarthmore must spend a significant amount of resource into re-organizing Sharples in order to construct a suitable space for a student union. Therefore, it is more reasonable to construct a new building as a space for student union.

Because Sharples is designed as a dining hall, it takes more resources to convert current Sharples into a student union than to renovate spaces inside the building. Congestion and individualized cooking may be some of the drawbacks Sharples has, but they do not create so many problems that a new dining hall must be built. In essence, Swarthmore students want two things: better food and more spaces for social gathering. These goals can be reached more efficiently if we utilize buildings in the ways they are originally designed: Sharples for food and a new building for a new student union.

Swarthmore freezes dormitories to save energy

in Columns/Opinions/Satire by

To keep up with Swarthmore’s commitment to being green and eco-friendly, Swarthmore announced Tuesday that it will leave dormitories without heating outside of the facilities department’s office hours. This announcement follows its declaration of Operation Cold War, which turned off hot waters for showers last December.

“We are trying to live up to our promise to become an eco-friendly institution,” said Olaf Snowman, facilities staff member. “We saved a lot of money when we turned off hot water in various dorms last year. We thought it would be a great idea to try something like that again, so we’re going to turn off the heaters in many dorms. But students should not worry at all! My lovely colleagues in the Worth Health Center will be there to help should students fall ill due to our commitment to eco-friendliness. Everything will be fine!”

Nicole McEskimo, another facilities staff member, expressed approval of this announcement, citing not only its positive environmental effects, but also its initiative to move the world toward a more “natural” state.

“Things like heaters are the number one things that move the human world farther away from the natural state of being in which the Earth was created upon,” McEskimo said. “When humans did not have any heaters, we braved the winter cold with just fire, a natural element of the Earth. Nowadays, not only are we using electricity to create fake heat, we are normalizing the use of this terrible, unnatural creation, which hinders the natural processes of Mother Nature. We must reduce use of such inventions to an absolute minimum.”

When asked if she ever turns on heaters at home, McEskimo started talking about her own experience living in a dormitory 40 years ago as a college student.

According to Dana Alice Kemp, Workbox staff member, part of this initiative’s goal is to teach students a lesson for complaining too much about the flaky heat systems.

“Students should feel grateful that they have heat in the first place,” Kemp said. “I think Swarthmore students need to learn to think more positively. Having heat is not a right. It is a privilege that is only given to those who deserve it. We want to show that we can always take it away if we feel like we should.”

Student anger was apparent as soon as the facilities department made this announcement. Residents of Wharton Hall, who still enjoy complimentary ice cold showers to this day, picketed  around the building demanding the administration immediately turn the heaters back on. Some students who have friends living in Strath Haven Condominiums or other off-campus housing resorted to camping out there, after reportedly having shiver attacks in their own rooms. The anger, however, was especially apparent among residents in Mary Lyons.

“Thank you, Swarthmore, for giving me another reason to hate my dorm,” said Brieanna Merry ’20, a resident of Mary Lyons. “I used to feel so relieved after I finally got to my dorm every day to some heat, because it actually made me feel like I was at home, like many people in ML feel. But instead, I now return to an igloo after nearly freezing to death outside. My roommate and I are thinking about creating a makeshift bonfire in the middle of our room. Maybe then, at least we will find out what being an Eskimo is like! How exciting is that! So thankful that Swarthmore is stretching itself to this extent to give me a true liberal arts education and hands-on learning! Can I get academic credit for this?”

The heater, according to the facilities staff, will remain turned off until the beginning of the summer.

Disclaimer: This article was written with a purely satirical purpose. All of the information presented in this article are thus false.

The State of our Athletic Facilities

in Columns/Sports by

There are certain realities about athletics facilities on campus that the athletic department and the college can’t ignore. The Lamb-Miller Field House has basically reached the end of it’s life. Perhaps back when it was built in 1935 it was able to accommodate the needs of the college athletics community, but the same cannot be said today. As the main indoor athletic facility on campus, the fieldhouse hosts many teams during the winter such as track and field, baseball, softball, and club sports such as Ultimate Frisbee. As a freshman, I have not yet experienced Swarthmore athletics in the winter season, but from conversations with many athletes, I have heard that teams compete for space and resources, with the occasional fight to the death. Well, perhaps that hasn’t happened quite yet, but that’s not to say that tensions don’t rise as teams try to find space for practice. It’s usually not realistic to think that teams can practice outside when it’s below freezing or snowing, and we all need space. At this point, the college really does need to seriously investigate ways to improve and expand the indoor facilities, especially since the college plans on growing in population over the next few years. This year’s freshman class is the biggest ever, and all indications point to the trend continuing as the college invests in new housing facilities. As more and more students arrive, the stress on the facilities is only going to grow.

     Perhaps the most obvious solution is to construct a new, larger field house. However, that idea has a lot of issues, primarily that there isn’t open enough space for a new fieldhouse. The current fieldhouse is bounded by Clothier Field on one side, the Matchbox on another, a road on the third, and the baseball field on the fourth. Perhaps, then, it would make sense for the college to expand the field house upwards, making a multi-storied facility. The issue with this is that the current fieldhouse would probably have to be torn down or otherwise seriously impacted as more stories are built, preventing teams from practicing there at all. it seems only reasonable to suggest that a new fieldhouse be built that can be used once completed without interfering with the current one.

     Take a walk to Cunningham Fields and ask yourself, “Can I really call this a field?” Cunningham Fields, located across the road behind Alice Paul and David Kemp, are the primary home of club sports here on campus (when conditions allow) and host some varsity sports when other facilities aren’t available. And while I’m being a little theatrical in my description of the state of the fields, they really are in bad shape; uneven elevation and containing patches of grassless dirt in various areas. These poor conditions are an expected result of the many hours of practice and games that occur on these fields each week.

     As a member of the club Ultimate team, I can say from experience the field we usually practice on has various patches that are practically void of grass, merely a layer of dirt with an occasional blade providing a spark of green. When running downfield, your chief concern should not be people around you kicking dirt into your eyes. With every step taken, new divots are created, perfect for someone to trip or twist their ankle. Of course, I understand that the college isn’t going to dedicate the same resources to club sports that it gives to varsity athletics. I can understand if we’re not as important to the image of the college as, say, our national championship contending women’s soccer team. These are much more high profile and popular events, and I would argue they are much more important for the image of the college. But that doesn’t mean that we club athletes should be ignored.

     The college stresses its dedication to health and wellness, and that’s something club sports provide. Proper maintenance of those fields, perhaps even, dare I dream, the installation of several other turf fields would go a long way for all the teams. Practices would be so much easier on smooth, well-turfed fields. Drills would run much more smoothly, concerns over safety would be greatly minimized, and all-in-all, playing would be a much better experience. All athletes should have access to high quality facilities, and the college is in a position to provide them.

     I have spent a lot of time at schools similar to Swarthmore such as Williams, Amherst, and Mt. Holyoke. Although we may not like to think about it, these are often the schools we end up competing against when trying to attract the highest caliber students and student-athletes. These are schools that have fairly spectacular athletic facilities, large, new gymnasia and fieldhouses, and a plethora of top notch athletic fields. In the end, some students’ decisions may come down to how they view the college overall, and athletics facilities are inherently tied to that. If we can’t do something to match the standards of similar schools, we are bound to lag behind.

     Every time we athletes step out onto the field, we have the name of Swarthmore College on our uniforms. We all love to compete, we all love our sport, and we all love our college. We compete for this college because we want to do the best we can for it, and we want to give Swarthmore the best image we can. Providing academic opportunities for all who wish to attend this college should be a priority. But athletics can’t be ignored. The college should strive to have well-rounded students who succeed academically while also participating in athletics or other extracurriculars. Student-athletes want to be successful, both in academics and athletics. All we ask is that Swarthmore gives us the tools to do so.


Renovations bring brighter spaces, new options, some headaches

in Around Campus/News by

As the academic year began at Swarthmore, renovations on Essie Mae’s Snack Bar and sections of the Cornell Science & Engineering Library reached completion and re-opened for the campus & community. These two spaces are the most recent in a string of campus renovation and construction projects that have been started in recent years and will continue into the next decade of the college’s history.

        Essie Mae’s Snack Bar, referred to as Essie’s around campus, re-opened on Monday, September 5 after an extensive remodeling that took place over the summer and after encountering a series of delays. On August 22, Director of Dining Services Linda McDougall announced that Essie’s would originally reopen on Monday, August 29.  However, that opening date was pushed back by a week in an email sent out Aug 26 by Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano. Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown explained at a press briefing in Parrish Hall that the late arrival of necessary equipment was to blame for some of the delay. Despite the setbacks, McDougall was impressed by the way the Facilities team handled the project.

        “Facilities did an amazing job in keeping the renovation on track, and much of the delay in the project was related to the delivery and setup of equipment that was needed for this project,” she explained.

Essie’s serves sandwiches, wraps, salads, and other snacks throughout the day and into the night hours. In past years, Essie’s accepted student meal credits at certain time slots throughout the day, particularly when Sharples Dining Hall was not serving meals. But as explained by Brown in tandem with Coschignano, Essie’s has undergone a transformation for the new academic year.

        “I think that [the remodeling] was a pretty substantial project… it’s bright, it’s more logical than it’s ever been. It’s great. The new Essie’s is an important change,” Brown said.

        The largest changes to the new Essie’s are clearly visible upon entering the space. The larger seating / dining area’s dark wood paneling was replaced with light blue walls, instantly making the space appear more open. New lighting, new wall décor, and resurfaced tables were also added, but the general layout of the space remains the same.

        In contrast, the serving area of Essie’s contains new equipment and the layout of the space has changed slightly. On a tour before the official opening, Brown pointed out several new features designed to make the student dining experience as comfortable and stress-free as possible in the serving area. Twin ventilation systems were installed to ensure that fumes and heat from the grill line are contained. Instead of a fixed menu, electronic monitors hanging over the serving area will display the menu’s specials and can be updated as needed to accommodate menu changes. Similar to the dining area, the serving area contains new lighting, producing a drastic change in the brightness of the space, compared to before the remodel.

In addition, an entirely new serving line / bar was added on western wall of the space in order to make room for the relatively large number of additions to the Essie’s menu. Additions include a personal pizza machine, pre-made hot sandwiches, and a space for a specialty bar similar to the one already offered in Sharples during meal times. Brown explained that the new Essie’s will have the capacity to prepare this specialty bar in their own space, instead of relying on other spaces as they have in previous years. There are also smaller product additions throughout Essie’s, like new bottled beverages, frozen entrees, and a corner that feels similar to a grocery store, where students can purchase staples like peanut butter and canned tuna fish.

Overall, student responses to both the renovations and new offerings in Essie’s have been generally positive, if not surprised.

        “I think it’s interesting to see the clear influence of the college’s pivot towards being more of a ‘modern’ institution. The lighting is very pale, which gives a really clean and new look to the new Essie’s,” said Kyung Min ’18. In addition, Min noted that he was happy the college staff decided to keep similar lighting in the seating area, because otherwise it would not feel as inviting. He was also surprised by the addition of frozen foods and other grocery-type items.

“I guess they realized that students ‘grocery shop’ at Essie’s and wanted to take advantage of that,” he said.

Some students particularly appreciated certain additions to the menu options of Essie’s. Spriha Dhanuka ’17 felt incredibly passionate about the addition of “real” avocados to the menu, and described the new Essie’s as a “bountiful cornucopia”. The support for the addition of avocado was not limited to a single student on campus.

“I’m not sure whether I’m happier with the addition of the avocado or the mozzarella, but regardless it seems much nicer than it used to be. I never knew how much I needed frozen lasagna in my life until yesterday,” said Sam Wallach Hanson ’18.

Despite the addition of an entire new serving section at Essie’s, Brown said there were no plans to increase the total number of Dining Services staff on campus. Rather, Brown explained that his team was monitoring activity closely and could move additional staff members from other spaces like Sharples if needed. Coschignano noted that the same number of Dining staff could now operate more efficiently in the space.

Furthermore, the delays in the arrival of necessary equipment for the space made it difficult for training sessions to occur before the grand re-opening happened.

“Our facilities team bent over backwards and killed themselves trying to get [everything] in place… but because of the late arrival of the equipment, the training wasn’t what it should be, so the first day, I think yesterday, was a little bit of a shakeout. I think we’ll see that for a while,” Brown noted.

Students and other community members are also able to use the newly renovated main level of Cornell Science & Engineering Library, commonly referred to as Cornell, which re-opened on Monday, August 29.

The newly renovated space is still designated as a floor for group work and conversations, as it did before the renovation. But with new flooring, walls, color palette, and seating and work spaces, it is difficult to recognize where a particular desk or shelf once stood. The western wall of the library is lined with oversized bright green booths that can seat eight students comfortably, ideal for group work. The main floor space is dominated by brand new four-person tables and a raised working table reminiscent of an Apple Store’s Genius Bar on the northern wall, adjacent to a glass-encased private study room. Another more private study space is tucked behind the main northern wall, and the now-glass balcony on the east wall overlooking the still-unremodeled lower level is lined with green and orange lounge chairs.

These renovations are not the last intended for Cornell, as explained by College Librarian Peggy Seiden. She has plans for the second and lower levels of the library, which currently remain as they were during the previous academic year. In particular, Seiden called the computer lab on the second floor “a dismal space”, and expressed intentions to remodel it, citing the room’s history as a microform storage space as a reason for the lack of natural light. She also lamented the lack of quiet study spaces across the campus libraries, and wanted to expand study spaces like the second floor of Cornell so more students could use them. On the lower level, she identified the Sigma Xi seminar room, the now-superfluous compact shelving, and the lack of study rooms as problem areas needing to be addressed.

Overall, the renovations are representative of a shift from a focus on what materials and resources the library could offer students, to a focus on the use of the space in the library.

“Somebody asked me, ‘What happened to all of the books that were on this floor?’ … [and the answer is] a lot of those books were only here as sound buffers. It’s hard to explain… but in every discipline, there are all of these indexes and abstracts that we now have online. So we were keeping them on the shelves because they were absorbing the sound,” Seiden said. Sound engineering was important in the renovation process, and the removal of those shelves as sound buffers was offset by the addition of sound-absorbing ceiling tiles.

Seiden said the resources available for the project were great, but they were constrained by the presence of a budget, as any project would be. During the bid phase, the proposed numbers did not always align with the budget for the project, so the staff involved in the project needed to make decisions about aspects of the project could be left for a later date. However, at the end of the bid phase, Seiden said that only the re-carpeting of staff areas on the main level was cut from the project plans; everything else that was proposed in the design phase was implemented. The approximately $650,000 budget for the project was almost enough to cover all the expenses; Seiden did note that the project went over budget by a negligible amount.

Several different groups and constituencies were all responsible for making the renovations successful. The project steering committee worked closely with the college’s Associate Project Manager Mary Ciurlino, and chose Ballinger, the architecture firm that will be working with the college to construct the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology (BEP) building, to work on the project.

“It might be a preview [of the BEP]… but it was really more about form than function, and [Ballinger staff] were wonderful to work with,” Seiden said. In addition, the group consulted faculty members, visiting librarian Dora Wong, Access and Lending Services Supervisor Terry Heinrichs, and included three student representatives on the project steering committee. Seiden also expressed that the late Science Librarian Meg Spencer would have played an important role in planning and implementing the project.

Science Librarian Andrea Baruzzi, who joined the Libraries staff over the summer, felt that the team did a good job with the main level renovations, but that there was still work to be done.

“I think it’s definitely on par with other institutions, as far as the direction they’re going in, with giving students more space to study, and different kinds of spaces to study. It’s pretty fascinating because even on the very first day we opened, it was really fun to see people come in and explore the space, and from the very first day, every different area was being used,” Baruzzi explained. Since there was no official opening ceremony, students trickled in and out of the library throughout the day, but she felt the reactions to the space were generally positive. Baruzzi did recall seeing a particular group of students who seemed to study regularly in Cornell enter into the new space for the first time.

“They went around and literally sat in every seat, and I think have sort of decided ‘Yeah, this will work, we’re gonna be okay,” she explained.

The student response to the renovations has generally been positive, with some reservations stemming from how different the space has become. May Dong ’18 was happy with the increased seating capacity and the noise reduction panels, but felt unsure about the new color scheme. Aamia Malik ’18 generally appreciated the changes, with minimal reservation.

“I appreciate that it feels like a very open space and the lighting is great. I do think that the tables in the middle make it look a little like an Apple Store,” she said. Malik also enjoyed the oversized booths, but felt that their large seating capacity made them slightly awkward.

Jordan Reyes ’19 was pleasantly surprised by the changes when he saw them for the first time, so much so that he immediately sent a photo of the main level to his friends.

“… [I] think it is now very open in terms of space, and it has a cool modern look to it. I appreciate the glass railing, it really makes the Crum the focal point, and it is so aesthetically pleasing!” he said. Despite the positivity, he noted that the space felt a little louder and could possibly be confused for a lounge, a sentiment Seiden had hoped to avoid.

Both Cornell Library and Essie Mae’s are open to the community to visit during their respective business hours. There are several projects still currently under construction on campus, including NPPR, the new residence hall, and the Whitter Place building, which will temporarily house the Psychology department and eventually Studio Art spaces.  

The history and evolution of Town Center West

in News by

With the development of the Swarthmore Inn now in full swing, and the construction of the roundabout still a controversial stir among townspeople, the Phoenix has found the original plans for the Inn site and tracked its development to its final design. Over the course of the Town Center West (TCW) development, there had been discussions of condominiums and residential apartments, but those proposals was scrapped before the ideas fully materialized due to zoning restrictions. Stu Hain, the Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects, said in a Swarthmorean article from June 2010 that plans for residential apartments had been discussed, but that it was unlikely to occur due to zoning restrictions. “Going that route would require an amendment, as current zoning allows 80 hotel rooms”. Professor Timothy Burke, chair of the history department, stated in an interview with the Phoenix that condominiums were under consideration as early as 2007, but that “the committee was really skeptical about that” because the college was unwilling to sell the land. When asked whether the condominiums would be low-income, he said “No, the plan was to build pretty nice units targeted at retirees” though the price range was never discussed. Professor Burke was on a committee in 2007 that heard proposals by developers for the project.

The first reference to the Inn construction project appears in a 1999 document titled Swarthmore Town Center Revitalization Strategy. The document, made by the Town Center Revitalization Strategy Task Force, sought to outline some of the pressing desires of the town’s residents and determine the most concerning flaws of the town center to be addressed. The committee collected the opinions of over 900 community and college members over the course of their decision-making process. The plan that arose out of their meetings listed 34 potential improvements to the town of Swarthmore. Some of these minor improvements included the addition of new signs in the Town Center to decrease confusion and hazardous driving conditions, as well as new pedestrian walkways and improved property accessibility.

Other proposed improvements were much bigger in scale though; these included the construction of the new Co-Op building in conjunction with the extension of Lafayette Avenue (completed in 2004), improving the train station site, and the creation of an Inn. The original description for the Inn is consistent with the final design that we are familiar with today. The document states, “It is recommended that the Borough and the College pursue development of a high-quality, small-scale inn (approximately 65 rooms) with a restaurant.” This, along with a new College bookstore, would be built on a new Town Green that would be located “along S. Chester Road south of the Swarthmore Train Station”. The location for the Inn, which we know as the former softball field, was referred to as the Town Green in the document:

“The Green would encourage the staging of public events and festivals within the Town Center and provide an aesthetic passive open space that links the Swarthmore College campus to the existing Town Center. “

As early as 1999, the Inn/Restaurant/Bookstore development was already laid out in significant detail, and the accepted layout closely aligns with this original design. However, the design has evolved several times over the last decade.

Little progress was made on the Inn project for 6 years, until zoning rights to the Town Center West, as the site was now called, were approved in 2005. In 2007, the development of the Inn gained traction when the College began to meet with potential consultants. In February 2008, the Daily Gazette published an article describing the planned site with a diagram that included a site for condominiums. According to the article, the Inn project would create “43 condominiums, 63 hotel rooms, 15,000 ft bookstore, a fine arts cinema, an upscale restaurant, bar, 50 student parking spaces, and a sunken amphitheater.” This design differs significantly from the original. Ultimately, the prospect of condominium development was scrapped because the TCW site was owned by the college and was being rented out to developers on a 60-year lease, meaning that prospective condominium owners would not legally own the property and thus could not develop on it. Timothy Burke was on the committee that met with this original group of developers.

“We ended up selecting one of the qualifying firms as the “approved developer” for the college to pursue a further negotiation with,” said Burke. “Then the year after that, the collapse of the subprime bubble and the general crash of the economy meant that the negotiations took a significant turn away from the more expansive plan that had been proposed the previous year, but the committee had disbanded by that point, so that the discussion was strictly between senior administration and the developer.”

When the Great Recession hit, all discussion of the Inn was put on hold. The project was revitalized again in April 2010, when the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office awarded the Swarthmore Borough the opportunity to apply for a $2 million grant as part of the Commonwealth’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The money would be used to revive the borough and the college’s plan to build an inn on the college’s campus. The college promptly applied, and won the $2 million seed money, with support from State Representative Bryan Lentz of Swarthmore and the former mayor of Swarthmore Eck Gerner.

When asked if there would be future developments near TCW, Maurice Eldridge ’61, vice president for college and community relations, said “The college is moving the playing fields and there may be at some point in the future some additional residence halls because we are growing in size… and the fieldhouse might be renovated too. But beyond that no.” Eldridge said that the focus on developing the southwest side of campus where the Inn is being constructed will shift to other areas of the College campus, such as the Northeast corner where the future Psychology, Biology and Engineering building is expected. If that project is anything like the TCW development, then it is likely that a lot more time will pass before construction begins.

College makes slow strides towards sustainability

in News by
Photo by Angelina Abitino

Despite sustainability efforts presently underway on campus, the college still produced over 8,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2013 and the primary source of heat throughout campus is a century-old centralized steam system.

However, new renovations to Willets Hall have demonstrated how infrastructure changes can alter even an older building’s carbon output. This summer, the residence hall was taken off central steam heating, and now uses natural gas as its heating source, which greatly reduces the building’s carbon footprint. According to Stu Hain, the vice president for facilities and capital projects, this decision was both economic and environmental.

“The cost of replacing the line was calculated to be about two thirds of the cost of installing a stand alone heating system,” explained Hain.

Using the centralized steam heating system is less than ideal from an energy standpoint. Before the renovations, an 85 percent efficient boiler produced steam that was then piped over 2,000 feet underground to Willets, with the resulting water sent back to the site.

“On the face of it, it’s a considerable amount of waste to boil water remotely if the intent is to provide hot water and heat locally,” said Hain.

Exploring other options was a part of the process.

“We then looked at advances in condensing boiler technology and discovered boiler efficiencies of up to 96 percent could be achieved with some models. The bonus is the heat can be produced when needed rather than having hot, pressurized pipe full of steam on standby,” he said.

Construction on the Matchbox, the college’s new fitness and theater building, is currently in the final stages and it is set to open after fall break. No serious spike in emissions is expected with its opening, and green technologies are incorporated in its design, including an air monitoring system and a storm water recharge system. The air monitoring system will economize airflow by delivering fresh air based upon occupancy, while the storm recharge system will prevent erosion into the Crum Woods.

Even as the Matchbox is being completed, administrators are looking to future construction projects that will meet the demands of an ever-growing student body. Among these projects are a new biology, engineering, and psychology building, the Town Center West project to build an inn and restaurant, and a 120-bed dorm near Palmer, Pittenger, and Roberts dorms.

New construction, which increases energy demands for lighting and heating, presents a substantial challenge to sustainability efforts. With a stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, the college has reiterated its continued commitment to decrease emissions while adding floor space.

Director of the Scott arboretum Claire Sawyers expressed that these new construction projects give the arboretum an opportunity to address environmental issues.

“We want to use horticulture as a way to mitigate some of the challenges that these projects represent, such as storm water and increased energy demands, and we are ready and anxious,” she said. “Horticulture can now contribute to these larger issues, these greater causes that the college has said we want to pursue.”

The college presently has no specific policy governing environmental requirements for new additions or for older buildings, but a “sustainability framework” is in its developmental stages. Although details remain unclear, Laura Cacho, the college’s sustainability director, explains that “the sustainability framework is tied to our master plan, looking at the next 15 years and saying, ‘What else could we be doing?’”

Of the new construction projects, the BEP building presents the greatest obstacle to sustainability efforts on campus according to Greg Brown, vice president for finance and administration.

“By the nature of those departments, that will be the largest building on campus when it is built, and our responsibility is to build something that is as energy efficient as possible,” said Brown. “Science buildings are the least efficient, so the real challenge is to contain the use of energy.”

Although how this will be done remains undecided, the college plans to explore numerous options for energy production, including natural gas, geothermal power and hydropower.

Sawyers remarked that the BEP building could incorporate a green roof as an environmental consideration.

“To have a green roof that people could actually enjoy as a garden — it’s a terrace, it’s a study area, it’s got tables and chairs, it’s got a gazebo — you’re actually invited into it. And there are a lot of green roofs like that,” she remarked.

Sawyers went on to explain that although the arboretum currently does participate in sustainability efforts, its mission may shift to focus even more on sustainability as these building projects continue.

“A lot of what we do in the next few years will be driven by the projects that are underway,” she said.

Plans for the BEP building are far from finalized, and there will be a large community conversation about the new building plans this coming November.

To serve the spatial needs that a growing student population demands, the college also plans to build a new residence hall, most likely near the current PPR dorms. Although concrete plans have not yet been made, this building will have at least 120 beds. The dorm could also, said Greg Brown, serve as an important part of student observation of sustainability.

“I think it would be great if we had a student residence hall that was particularly well-designed from an energy perspective, so students could actually study it, and see how changes in behavior can affect energy consumption,” he said.

Despite the continuing decrease in emissions, some carbon dioxide output cannot be eliminated. Cacho cited study abroad travel emissions, commuting emissions and a certain level of output from everyday college activities as necessary emissions.

“That’s all something that’s part of our mission as a college so that’s not going to change. Those are things we are going to have to offset,” said Cacho.

Cacho expressed some concern as to whether the college will be able to reach its 2035 carbon neutrality commitment.

“Often there is a gap [between carbon neutrality and actual emissions], and that’s when you look more deeply at renewable energy offsets … that’s very feasible,” she said.

Currently, the college purchases Renewable Energy Credits to completely offset its electricity-related emissions, and may have to do so with other energy uses, such as those deemed part of the college’s mission. Both Brown and Cacho made it clear that purchasing RECs is a last resort, and that the college will pursue all other avenues to reduce carbon emissions first.

Brown additionally emphasized that when it comes to sustainability, one overhaul cannot accomplish this goal. “If we are consciously thinking about that every time we do a renovation or project, that’s how we get there,” he said.

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