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Master Plan Forum: Students and Administrators Meet To Discuss Future of Campus

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This past Tuesday afternoon, Swarthmore administrators and Strategic Planning Council Members gathered in the Scheuer Room to present their developing nascent ideas for the “Campus Master Plan” to an open student forum Swarthmore students and to receive feedback from the forum.

The Master Plan comprises various construction and renovation projects that the administration aims to pursue within the next 15 to 25 years to optimize quality of life for the students, faculty, and staff of Swarthmore College. Despite its name, the purpose of the forum was to make the planning process more transparent, democratic, and malleable to the greater campus community, not necessarily to cement concrete plans.

“This forum is for idea generation, not announcing final decisions,” declared Stu Hain, Vice President of Facilities and Services. And with a strong showing by students passionate about Swarthmore, ideas were definitely generated in the hour-long discussion.

Adam Gross, a Baltimore architect and the keynote speaker, presented a handful of potential campus improvement projects conceived by him and the Council. Responsible for many of the new construction projects at Swarthmore and the University of Virginia, he related the way in which architecture, landscaping, and environment interact to produce the overarching ethos of a living and learning space like Swarthmore. Gross began by discussing the need for more social and work spaces “on top of the hill,” away from the residence halls, ones on the same vein as the “Gateway Arch” attached to Duke University’s Perkins Library, a predominantly glass study space where campus residents can work and socialize.

“When my dad came to visit, we found it surprisingly hard to find a good space to talk,” one student shared, highlighting the need for more common spaces on campus. “All the social spaces were too loud and we couldn’t talk very loudly in the academic spaces like the library.”

He also pointed to another source of architectural inspiration from Duke University: “Duke Link,” a multipurpose student center with flexible furniture, whiteboards for walls, and AV and IT features that are on the cutting edge of academic-oriented technology. The Council hopes to follow the same principle of creating more modern and flexible social spaces by relying more heavily on glass materials and introducing more natural lighting into building interiors.

The discussion then shifted to the various clusters of residence hall scattered about campus. Concerning Alice Paul, David Kemp, and Willets, Gross detailed proposals for new vegetated “Green Roofs,” which are already installed atop several residence halls and maximize building efficiency by cutting air conditioning costs and managing stormwater. He also explained the possibility of replacing the “gloomy Northern entrance” with “less dense greenery, similar to that of the Parrish lawns.” Gross continued by cataloguing numerous design “alternatives” and options, like constructing a new 80-bed residence hall in the area, a T-shaped architectural addition to Willets, and more archways above walkways.

Similar motifs of open and enclosed common spaces manifested in potential projects for Clothier, Wharton, Hallowell, and Dana. Gross brought up the idea of “Getting rid of the tennis field [near Wharton] altogether and moving it elsewhere on campus” and replacing it with a circular field. He also proposed building a new residence hall with more common spaces and a level of underground parking, an idea that was well-received by community residents at Swarthmore town meetings.

Students were particularly excited about potential renovations to Clothier Hall, including re-activating more entrances.

“Essie Mae’s is really crowded,” one student pointed out. “I like this idea because it would allow more room for people to eat and talk together.” Another student added that “the game room gets crowded too when people are waiting their turn to play ping pong, pool, and foosball.”

An idea that drew an especially enthusiastic student response was “taking out” Upper Tarble and replacing it with a more flexible student space that aesthetically resembles the Hogwarts-like halls of the University of Chicago. Yet one attendee pointed out that “Upper Tarble is one of the only dance spaces on campus aside from LPAC. It’s frequently used by dance clubs like Tango and Swing so the administration would have to provide an alternative space for dancers.”

Matthew Goldman ’15, however, countered that “dance spaces can be replaced by the new buildings that will be constructed by the administration,” displaying his enthusiastic support for renovating Tarble. “I have a vision of walking into Clothier one day, and seeing the light coming into those big windows and there will be spaces to do work and to hang out and a space to eat that doesn’t make me anxious to go in there.” Regarding the balance between historical tradition and functional modernity, he believes that “there is no tension” between the two concepts as long as the fusion is well implemented architecturally.

Another hot topic was the fate of Sharples. Gross and the Council acknowledged the inadequacy of space to accommodate 1500 students, and promised to develop more ideas on how to address this need. Students also highlighted the fact that the dining hall is typically dimly lit during the day and that more windows would at once illuminate the space and save energy.

Some students also raised concerns over the need for better integration of the PPR Halls and the rest of campus. Elizabeth Braun, Dean of Students, reminded the students that construction will soon begin on the new inn on southern campus and that the bookstore will be relocated from Tarble to the basement of the inn, which may address the campus integration problem.

Another open forum will be held on Thursday, October 5th to focus on staff issues. On Wednesday, October 24th, a third forum will be held, focusing more on the faculty perspective and needs pertaining to academic and research facilities. Each and every one of these forums will be open to students interested in the future planning and design of the Swarthmore campus.

The importance of campus planning goes without saying. “If you ask freshmen why they chose their colleges, they usually say one of two things,” Gross said in a recent article in Slate Magazine. “Either they got a good financial aid package or they thought the campus was beautiful.”

The aesthetic appeal of a campus is able to attract not only prospective students, but also tourists. With such important decisions about the future of the campus to be made, the future of the Swarthmore community is in students’ hands.

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