What was once a tranquil arboretum campus has given way to loud and disruptive construction work. Students who make their way towards the academic buildings for class in the morning walk past piles of mulch, chain link fences, and construction equipment, and are rerouted around Magill Walk because of the deep ruts that cut across the walkway. These drastic changes to Swarthmore’s campus are because of the Dining and Community Commons Project, which has been ongoing for the entire year.
The project includes the building of a new dining hall behind Sharples, the first phase of the construction of a geothermal exchange plant, and the renovation of Sharples to make it into a community commons. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Program Manager and Senior Project Manager Susan Smythe reported that the Dining and Community Commons Project will cost about $55 million and is being funded by a combination of gifts and borrowing.
Students will hopefully be able to reap the benefits of this extensive construction project soon. In an email to The Phoenix, Smythe described the timeline of the project.
“We will actually complete the new dining portion of the project in the late spring or early summer of ’22, so that it is open for students’ return in the Fall of ’22,” wrote Smythe.
She added that the Community Commons portion of the project will take an extra year to complete, and Sharples will be reopened as a student space in Fall of ’23. The geoexchange system will take a little longer to finish.
“The geoexchange plant and well field will be constructed in phases, with the first phase targeted for completion in 2024 and subsequent phases to be complete by 2035,” she wrote.
Once completed, the geoexchange system will provide hot and cold water and a heating and cooling system powered by renewable electricity.
“The geoexchange system captures heat that is removed from campus buildings during summer cooling and stores the heat deep in the earth to be extracted for heating the campus buildings in the winter.”
Currently, the college uses fossil fuels for heat in the winter and electricity for air conditioning in the summer. This geoexchange system will replace that old system and be part of Swarthmore’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. The new system will serve all academic buildings, most residence halls, and many athletic, student service, and administrative buildings. The only places not targeted to be heated by the geoexchange system are places not on the immediate campus, including residence hall Mary Lyon.
The project has necessitated the closure of Magill Walk because the college will eventually place the geowell portion of the geoexchange system underneath Parrish Lawn. In order for the well to be connected to the new dining hall, pipes that cut across campus must be installed while construction of the new dining hall is still ongoing.
Although the completion of the entire geoexchange system is years into the future, the college believes the pipes will be finished in early December and Magill Walk will reopen then.
As these drastic changes occur, students have mixed reactions towards the new dining hall. Some are tentatively excited to have a new dining hall on campus, especially if it clears up some of the problems that Sharples has during dinner and lunch rushes.
“I’m curious to see what the new layout of the dining hall will be, and I’ll be really happy with it if it clears up some of the crowd that Sharples always ends up with,” said Erin Kelly ’24.
Other students feel more neutral about the new dining hall on campus, owing to the fact that they don’t yet know if it will be better than Sharples.
“I’m excited to see what it ends up looking like, but I’m not super excited if it’s just Sharples two. Like what’s the difference?” asked Molly O’Sullivan ’24.
The lack of readily accessible information about these construction projects is a contributing factor to some students’ lack of enthusiasm for the new facilities.
“I think it’s really inconvenient and it takes like ten times as long to get where you’re going, and I don’t even understand what the point is,” O’Sullivan added.
For some upperclassmen, the massive construction project the college is undertaking is also a source of melancholy.
“It’s kind of sad that everything about this campus is changing so fast,” said Alex Malcombe ’23.
Many older students on campus are ambivalent about the construction projects, mostly because they won’t be around to actually use these new facilities. They must deal with the disruptive campus construction, but will never benefit from the new buildings.
This project has necessitated the closure of a portion of both Magill Walk and the path that winds up to Sharples from the duck tunnel. Chain link fences block these usually well traveled paths off to students and also enclose many of the trees around campus to protect their roots from the construction equipment. The closure of these paths ultimately means there is only one direct, paved path that cuts up through the entire campus, and depending on where students are coming from, that might make their walk on campus longer than usual.
More than anything, students are excited for the inconveniences surrounding construction to be over.
“Making it so that half the ways to get home are cut off just sucks,” lamented Malcombe.
“It’s super inconvenient,” said Cisco Velasco ’23. “You have to plan more to go anywhere because it takes a good fifteen minutes to get up campus now.”
While the prospect of the giant construction project being completed gives some students a sigh of relief, Smythe cautioned that construction will almost certainly continue long past the completion of the Dining and Community Commons project.
“Construction is a normal part of campus operations, [and] will continue in various campus areas. Ongoing campus infrastructure replacement is required to replace the legacy carbon-intensive heating and cooling distribution,” she wrote.