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College makes progress on multiple construction projects

in News by

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, members of the college administration held a press briefing to address recent and ongoing construction projects on campus.

The briefing focused on six major projects, which included renovations to existing buildings and spaces as well as the construction of new buildings or the repurposing of old ones.

This past summer, Papazian Hall was torn down to make room for its replacement, a new building slated for completion in 2020 that will be named the Biology, Engineering, and Psychology (BEP) building. According to material prepared by the office of Vice President of Finance & Administration Greg Brown, BEP will serve as an interdisciplinary space to strengthen connections between academic departments across campus.

While construction will be performed year-round over the next three years, Brown said the college aims for the work to be as least invasive as possible.

“We try to do things as quickly as possible and we try to do the busiest and noisiest work in the summer months when [students are] not here,” Brown said.

In the final phase of the building’s construction, Hicks Hall will come down while the faculty offices and common spaces of the new building will inhabit Hicks’ footprint.

Whittier Hall opened in spring 2017 as a tentative placeholder for BEP while it is under construction. It presently houses psychology department offices as well as the engineering shop, though after the opening of BEP, it will transition to its designated use as a studio space for the art department.

“It is a very flexibly designed building so that it can fulfill multiple purposes over time,” Brown said.

Whittier is one of the first buildings on campus to adhere to the college’s new sustainability framework. It includes a variety of features such as solar power, aggressive storm water management, ground source heating and cooling, and a high-performing envelope.

Along with academic buildings, the PPR Apartment construction project, initially slated for completion before the start of the fall semester, was delayed by 6-8 weeks due to a failed steel subcontractor. According to Brown, the project remains under budget despite delay.

“There are a few things that still have yet to be finished and we are working on those,” said Brown. He noted that the furniture that will be in the living rooms has been back-ordered, and that the building is still being commissioned.

The apartments are also designed to have a variety of sustainability features. In the construction of the building, the baseball outfield was dug up and then replaced again in order to put in a geothermal well field. In addition, the rooftops have easily identifiable solar panels.

“They’re probably the most obvious solar panels on campus,” observed Brown. “One of the things we try to do in our construction is think about the educational component, so being able to see the solar panels I think reminds everybody that we’re actually committed to sustainability and we’re working on it.”

Several renovations were performed in Palmer and Pittenger over this past summer, such as bathroom renovations. In addition, a link is being built between the two buildings that will be accessible from the courtyard by a ramp.

ADA Program Coordinator Susan Smythe noted that the project was not completed in conjunction with the opening of the apartments so that construction efforts could be focused on the more extensive project.

“We made the triage decision to finish New PPR rather than keep the link on the same schedule. We’re now putting full attention over there,” said Smythe.

Sproul Hall is in the process of being repurposed into a shared space for the Intercultural Center, religious and spiritual life, and International Student Services. It will be renamed the Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center after the two alumni donors who financed its renovation.

“From the Deans’ office and the college’s perspective, we think this is going to be a wonderful way for students to get together and really so that there can be cross group communication and collaboration,” said Brown.

The telescope also came out of the roof this summer, and was donated to Supporting STEM and Space Inc. to be relocated to a community in Northwest Arkansas.

Janet Semler, the Director of Capital Planning & Project Management, believed that the repurposing of the telescope would inspire the members of the Arkansas community.

“It [ignites] all these young people’s interest in astronomy, and that’s what makes it so cool, that they’re using it as an educational tool,” said Semler.

Swarthmore’s recent renovations and ongoing construction projects will create new spaces for the campus community and in some cases bring new purpose to old ones.

College Examines its Spaces

in Around Campus/News by

The college is currently undergoing a strategic visioning process for physical space on campus. The process centers around analyzing the student experience to present guiding principles for how space is used on campus over the coming years.

“We are really trying to determine both what is the student experience at Swat and what should it be,” said Dean Liz Braun, part of the Senior Leadership of the visioning team. “That really focuses us on service delivery and for the purposes of thinking of the facilities on campus and how we prioritize renovations to improve the student experience as much as possible through space.”

Strategic visioning began last spring, with the goal of evaluating how space is currently being used and proposing ways it could be used in the future. The college hired Brightspot Strategies as an outside consultant to guide the process and give an outside evaluation of what the college should do with spaces on campus.

“What we really saw with them is that they are great facilitators of conversation,” said Vice President of Finance Greg Brown.

“In particular they aren’t facilitating with an agenda but they are facilitating based on what they are hearing and really working with us as an institution,” said Brown.

A central part of the process has been student input, related to studying, socializing, health and wellness, and dining spaces on campus. The Space Matters Committee, which leads the visioning process, contains a student advisory team, as well as faculty and staff members. In order to understand campus spaces and incorporate student input, the Brightspot Strategies consultants went on student-guided walking tours of campus and worked closely with the student advisory team.

Brown described some of the concrete ways in which the consultants teamed with students to get an understanding of campus space.

“[The] Space Matters committee had a separate meeting and were given homework from consultants where they have to take photos of different moments and areas of campus that relate back to the student experience and write up descriptors of what the space signifies to them or the activity.”

Two “visioning sessions” were held to get input from the campus community on how space is currently being used. The first session, held on August 30th, was for student input only, while the second session, held on August 31st, was open to the input of faculty and staff. Consultants explained the project’s goals before asking about how spaces are being used currently and how students think they should be constructed in the future.

Min Zhong ’19 shared her appreciation for the consultants’ work on the college’s project after attending the student session.

“I have good faith in the consultants,” said Zhong. “They seem like they were putting in their best effort to understand the culture at Swarthmore and what we need to really improve the student experience here.”

A key concern voiced by students was the lack of existing social spaces on campus outside of Sharples or a library, where socializing has to be mixed with either studying or eating.

“I think Swarthmore desperately needs some sort of student center recreational space where everyone can go to just hang out, relax, and meet new people. Right now, the social spaces are mainly dorm lounges and Sharples, which don’t exactly serve the purpose of integrating the whole student body.”

Throughout this process, the college is integrating data collected from various studies over the past couple of years. According to Braun, this includes looking at the results of last year’s campus-wide climate study, as well as a yearly senior student survey, a bi-yearly enrolled student survey, and an alumni survey. The goal is to hear reflections from as many students, faculty, and staff as possible to create the best possible plan for moving forward in the coming years.

“I think this is just such an exciting moment and really goes the heart of what I like to think of as my primary role, which is helping students think about how their out of classroom and in classroom experiences complement one another,” said Braun.

The strategic visioning will also serve to form a “master plan” for the college over the coming years, according to Braun. This will help the administration to decide how to best provide for the growing student body.

As well as looking at on-campus spaces, the visioning process is considering how increased student activity in the Ville will play out and affect campus life. Especially with the implementation of the OneCard system, student presence in the Ville is increasing. Brown expressed optimism about the benefits of integrating the borough and the student body, especially the area of student health and wellness.

“I think the borough and the college have mutual interest in making sure downtown is a viable destination,” he said. “You get so wrapped up in what you are doing and your own routines that if you have six or seven other choices down in the Ville for lunch or dinner it’s really a great way to kind of clear your head.”

Outside consultants will continue their work on campus for the remainder of the semester. The study will be concluded at the end of the semester. On October 17, a visioning session will be held from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. In this session, more concrete plans will be formed for space usage on campus. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend and stay for any length of time.

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