It does not require particularly close examination to notice that some spaces on campus are overcrowded. At the peak of lunch and dinner, navigating Sharples becomes chaotic. High housing lottery numbers can inspire nightmares. Some facilities are operating at overcapacity, and others are in need of renovation.In response to the mounting need for improved facilities, the college is in the process of drafting a master plan that will expand and revamp a variety of student spaces. The plan, for example, calls for the addition of roughly 200 beds, renovations of athletic spaces, and additional eating space in Sharples.
But how these changes should be executed is still being discussed.
“Things are very open at this stage,” said Randall Exon, an art professor and member of the master plan’s steering committee. “There’s nothing written in stone.”
Stu Hain, the Vice-President for Facilities and Services and another member of the master plan’s steering committee, agreed. “We’re still not finished,” he said.
As part of the process for determining how student spaces should be altered, the committee held a forum on January 24 in which a planning firm hired by the school presented a variety of proposals. Suggestions for expanding dorm space were particularly diverse. They included expanding Willets, constructing a suite-style dorm behind Mary Lyon, building new dorms by Wharton, Sharples, Palmer, Pittenger and Roberts, as well as connecting Dana and Hallowell with new housing where the trailer currently is. During the presentation, community members had the opportunity to comment and make suggestions.
“The very purpose of the forum is to collect input on the various options,” said Paula Dale, the Executive Assistant for Facilities and Services and the campus master plan project manager. Few students and faculty attended, but those who did were active in making comments. Students, for example, voiced concerns that adding onto Willets would make an already very social dorm more rowdy, or that building by Sharples would risk putting students too close to the fire horn. People also wondered why suite-style housing had to be so far from campus, which, according to Hain, may affect the committee’s decision to build there. “How we carry that forward will be informed by what we hear from students,” he said.
In addition, attendees expressed worry about the potential removal of Upper Tarble from Clothier Hall, prompting committee members to assure students that new space for dancing and other activities would be included to account for that loss. “Some students have real concerns about that because that serves a community need in a really specific way, so we will weigh that,” Hain said. There was also worry among student athletes that the plan did not go far enough in renovating athletic facilities. But Dale emphasized that sports were carefully considered in the process. “The campus master planning team has met with athletics on more than one occasion and gotten their wish list and their names,” she said.
Hain agreed, emphasizing that they would take their concerns into effect. “They raised important issues,” he said.
However, because of limited attendance, it is difficult for the committee to determine if comments are representative of how the campus feels. Indeed, sometimes, the committee gets differing opinions from forum to forum. “There was a slightly different perspective in the room about the dorms at this meeting than there was at the last two life and dorm res life forums. And that’s interesting,” said Dale.
As a result, the forums are not the only way for students to give feedback on the campus master plan process. The website features a survey and an interactive campus map where students and staff can identify parts of campus they feel need improvement and explain why.
“People tend to be specific about what they want,” said Dale of the online forums. For example, the committee received a request to construct a rock-climbing wall.
In addition, committee members said they often incorporate feedback they have heard in their conversations with faculty and students into the planning process. “I get a lot of direct feedback,” said Rachel Head, the Assistant Dean for Residential Life and a member of the master plan advisory committee, who added that her relationship to residential assistants made it particularly easy to get reactions.
Exon too said he received comments and that he would bring ideas he thought could be of use to the group as a whole. “If I hear something from a colleague or from a student that I think could be particularly useful for the committee to know, I’ll definitely bring it back to the committee,” he said.
One class, Contemporary Architecture, is giving students an unusual opportunity to affect the master plan. There, students are designing projects in the context of the master plan to help reform Sharples. If successful, some may be incorporated into the actual blueprint.
Julian Marin ‘14, who is taking the class, hoped that it would give students, who are intimately familiar with the facility, the opportunity to help address some of the issues the facilities have. “Sharples is a difficult place to figure out, especially for someone who doesn’t interact with and go to Sharples every day,” he said. At the end of the semester, the students will present their plans to the administration and put on an exhibition at the Kitao Gallery.
Dale emphasized that feedback from the community would be vital to the process. “We will meet and discuss all of the comments that were made at the three forums as well as the comments on the website and look at the various options that were presented and discuss how we should look at them going forward based on these comments,” she said.
Marin, who attended the forum, agreed that the comments appeared to be useful. “Student feedback seemed to be helpful,” he said.
“We definitely want to know what those disagreements are and the rationale behind them,” said Exon. “I think everyone on the committee is committed to coming up with solutions that will meet the need of the community.”