With a student population one-fourth the size of the town it inhabits, the college maintains a considerable presence in the town of Swarthmore. The two bodies have shared the same space for 153 years, and while there have been tensions, community members reported that they are most often met with compromise.
The recent construction of the Inn at Swarthmore was one such hiccup in the college’s relationship with the borough. In hopes to revitalize the town center and gain new revenue, both parties decided to build an inn next to the railroad. The project required many considerations, such as how traffic would be organized around the building and how to ensure the Inn would produce a profit. The respective answers: a roundabout and a liquor license.
However, the borough has forbidden the sale of alcohol since 1949. Thus, the liquor license created some controversy, according to economics professor and longtime borough resident Mark Kuperberg, because maintaining a dry town coaligned with some residents’ moral view. Despite several residents pushing back against the idea of a liquor license, Swarthmore Council President David Grove said that most community members agree that the Inn has proven beneficial to the town, the college, and the relationship between the two.
Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney added that the building of the inn was a collaborative effort between the college and the town: the borough outlined the specific location of the Inn, which the college paid for, in addition to the roundabout.
“I hear very little complaints about the Inn,” Kearney said, calling the building a nice asset to the town. “It’s a really nice mix of townspeople and college students. Everytime I go in there, I wind up in a conversation with someone I didn’t expect to have a conversation with.”
However, the college also initiates construction that doesn’t directly benefit the town, like the $100 million Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building next to residents’ homes. Kearney called such construction, along with New PPR behind the baseball fields, a temporary inconvenience. Grove said the most irritations come when the college builds on its periphery.
“Most of [the] college’s buildings have been interior to the campus, so they would have little effect on adjacent areas,” he said. “Now, they are building behind some houses in the resident areas.”
However, Grove commended the college for attempting to anticipate these inconveniences. In prior years, many trucks parked in places they shouldn’t have, Grove noted. Now, workers on the BEP building park in the mall and are shuttled in. When new problems arise, Grove said, the college tries to respond.
One such problem was the amount of nontaxable space the college occupies. None of the academic buildings, which make up most of the college, are taxable, and to make up for such a considerable loss in taxes, the college came to a monetary agreement with the borough that began last year and will continue through the next four years. Annually, the college pays $90,200 to the police department, roughly the amount for one police officer; $91,800 to “Life Safety,” which includes fire department and ambulance usage; $330,720 in sewer fees; $33,163 in trash fees; $126,333 in real estate tax, which includes all non-academic buildings like faculty housing; and $107,000 in fees to Swarthmore Borough Authority, a group that allocates tax-free bonds to the college that are used to build buildings.
Kuperberg said such actions show a reasonable balance of interests between the college and borough.
“The college is a huge resource to the town, and the town understands and appreciates that,” he said. “Their interests don’t always align. There is going to be some tension once in a while and that’s how it should be.”
Kearney said the two parties’ relationship has only gotten stronger. Fifteen years ago, Kearney said, it seemed rare to see students in town. Now that the OneCard can be used at Hobbs — the hipster cafe in town center — and the Co-Op — the town’s only grocery store — students frequent both locations as well as the Broad Table Tavern Inn when their families visit. Such initiatives only aid in student and community integration, and Kearney added that he hopes such efforts will lead to more integration.
Both Kearney and Grove commended the collective work of President Valerie Smith and Vice President of Finance Greg Brown for the strong relationship between college and borough, calling the college administration members responsive and active participants in the community.
“Just recently Val invited my wife and I to a ‘Dinner With Strangers,’ where she had twelve people at her house for dinner and none of them knew each other,” Kearney said, adding that he also meets with Public Safety, the police department, and Brown once a month to keep open communication between the borough and the college.
President of the Swarthmore Democrats Taylor Morgan ’19 echoed the sentiment of an intimate relationship between the two bodies.
“When I go to a [borough] meeting as a representative of Swarthmore Dems, [the residents] say they are so thankful for having college students engaged in local politics,” Morgan said. “They say, ‘We find it so great that students care about the things we care about.’”
Morgan cited several instances of kindness she’s felt from Swarthmore residents, such as several of them volunteering to drive students to political events and donating poster supplies to the Swarthmore Democrats. One resident even let her borrow pieces for her Halloween costume this year.
Kearney said that in ninety percent of the cases, college and borough interests align.
“I moved here because it was a college town,” Kearney said. “People like that more than anything. The work that the college has done is really stunning.”