Fall Construction Updates: BEP, Sproul, Dining, Mertz, Steam Plant

According to a press briefing on Sept. 6, construction plans for a new Sharples Dining Hall and a student union are well underway and will continue throughout the semester. In addition, progress continues on Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building and the Sproul Intercultural, Interfaith, and International Student Center, which will be completed by fall break. The college is also looking to find a way to use sustainable energy sources to reduce carbon emissions.

The school is looking to create a new dining hall space that can accommodate all students more efficiently, as well as turning Sharples into a student union space for various student groups to meet.

“This would enable a better student dining experience … we think about student commons and where students want to spend time,” Greg Brown, vice president for finance and administration, said at a press conference on construction updates.

As the student body continues to grow, so do lines at Sharples. When Sharples was originally built in 1964, it was only designed to hold 900 students. Due to student body growth over the past 50 years, the college now has to fit 1,577 students into the dining hall and feels that it’s time for a bigger space.

“The board has agreed this is indeed a project. We have done a lot of extensive background work over the last year. There was a programmatic committee with students, faculty, and staff to talk about what our overall dining program should be,” Brown said.

The process to renovate Sharples is already underway and Brown is hopeful that construction will start in the summer of 2020. Currently, the college is working on finalizing design and architecture plans. The process began with the college requesting qualifications from 18 firms that specialize in dining hall design.

“We invited seven to make proposals to us. In probably October or so, we will be inviting three of them to come. We will want to have some students involved in that conversation. The program committee is reforming this year so that the committee will be involved in this,” said Brown.

Construction of a new dining hall is expected to take two years. After the completion of the dining hall, the college will then begin transforming Sharples into a student union. This is expected to take an additional year.

“One of the challenges of this project is we need to feed the student body. We can’t do any work on Sharples until [ the new dining hall] is finished,” said Brown.

Many students are excited about the new plans for Sharples.

“I think it’s honestly great that they are going to do something. I just hope that they design the space in a way where it doesn’t get as crowded. I almost wish that they would keep Sharples and just have two dining halls,” Amelia Tomei ’19 said.

Nearby, the Sproul renovation is almost complete. The old Sproul observatory was transformed this summer into the Sproul Intercultural, Interfaith, and International Student Center. Interfaith staff members moved from Bond Hall, the former Interfaith Center, to their new offices in Sproul before classes began; the full space will open after fall break. Their former office spaces have been converted into spaces for CAPS appointments. The building opening is delayed because the college is waiting on a custom wood ceiling for the main common space which includes a kitchen, a large dining area, and a lounge area.  

“There’s also a meditation space [in Sproul]. There’s a collaborative space downstairs that students have already been excited about. There is going to be a wall down there [in the collaborative space] that’s all whiteboard,” Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion & Community Development Shá Duncan Smith said.

Across campus, the new BEP building is on schedule to open phase one in 2019. Walls are being added to the new building as well as heating and cooling systems. This is essential for workers to be able to continue building during the cold winter months.

The college is also looking to turn away from steam energy and find a more sustainable way to power this building and other building on campus. The college currently generates its energy at a steam plant and funnels it to different buildings around campus, a process that produces a large quantity of carbon emissions. Swarthmore is working with an engineer to create a master plan for sustainable energy.

“The steam plant will eventually be decommissioned. Some of our other work is very focused on energy and carbon reduction. We have our carbon neutrality goal of 2035 and part of that goal, in order to meet it, is getting rid of the steam plant,” Andy Feick, associate vice president for sustainable facilities, operation, and capital planning, said.

Next summer, work will begin to renovate Mertz residence hall, which was built in 1980. The college is still working on a final schedule for that project as they are not sure if all of the work will be able to be completed in one summer.

“We have to replace the windows and the roof on the building. All of the interior finishing would get replaced. We have a lot of cooling and piping work to do. The back steps that go into Mertz need to be rebuilt and redone. [It is] a lot of small work and some pretty major mechanical work,” Feick said.

The college hopes that with the new buildings, they can better meet students’ needs.

Featured image by Emma Chiao

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