Verbum Ultimum: Without the Lone Pine

The College must not undermine its history in a quest to expand.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 9/29/17 12:50am

Dartmouth’s community is rooted in a sense of place, in historic landmarks, aged buildings and a collective memory of centuries. The College on the Hill rests beneath the gaze of Robert Frost, and at the top of the hill itself, the historic stump representing the original Lone Pine still rests. So what will happen if the College elects to drop a massive dormitory complex on Robert Frost’s head?

Last week, the College announced that it would explore constructing new student housing on the campus-facing side of College Park. The area under consideration stretches roughly 35 acres from the edge of North Fayerweather Hall northward, taking in Shattuck Observatory, the statue of Robert Frost, the Lone Pine stump and Bartlett tower, in addition to a large quantity of open space and walking paths. But Dartmouth should take care before it constructs new buildings in College Park, an area with significant emotional and spiritual value to the surrounding community.

Dartmouth students appreciate the College’s relationship with nature. College Park provides an immediate, tangible space where busy students can easily walk, run or sit away from the hustle and bustle of campus life. Even if the College takes great pains to maintain some of the park’s character, the peace it provides will vanish if a 750-person residential hall or cluster is built at its edge, and it will just become another part of campus. To put the scale of the project into perspective, the McLaughlin Cluster holds just 342 beds across six halls, not even half the amount this envisioned cluster would hold. Though the College guarantees it will not disrupt the Bema, the clearing would likely still be impacted by large buildings — and the attendant noises of dorm life — rising immediately above it. Additionally, the wide open spaces at the top of the hill, home to numerous study breaks, class meetings and sun-kissed days, would likely be decimated by another faux-Georgian behemoth.

The proposed dormitory complex would also threaten two historic structures that currently reside at the top of the hill. While Bartlett Tower — constructed by students, alongside the rest of the park, in the 19th century — will not be torn down, the historically invaluable Shattuck Observatory could still be threatened. Shattuck is one of several Dartmouth buildings designed by Ammi B. Young, a master of Greek revival and neo-Renaissance architecture who also designed Vermont’s famous State House and who served as the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury. Shattuck was Young’s last standalone building and remains one of his most famous. Any attempt to modify it should be contested by Dartmouth’s community, and we hope the astronomy faculty will stand up for its most famous asset.

The College has already considered ditching one of its large open spaces even before it moved on College Park. Last month, the Valley News reported that Dartmouth may sell Hanover Country Club, a 123-acre area used by varsity and recreational golfers, by runners, walkers and skiers throughout the year, and numerous students who take stargazing trips to its open spaces. If it is run well, the country club offers moneymaking opportunities. Even with a net loss, its benefits to the Dartmouth community are great, and the $6.4 million assessed value of the sale is ultimately too little to gain in exchange for 123 pristine acres. Building on College Park would be a similarly daft decision.

Of course, the College does have dorms in immediate need of renovation, a problem it cannot address when nearly every room is full. This acute problem is cited as the driving force behind exploring new structures in College Park, which the College said has nothing to do with its simultaneous consideration of expanding the student body. These claims are questionable — as 750 new beds would allow the College to grow the student body by 17.4 percent after other renovations were completed, even if those renovations added no new beds to other dorms. If the College’s focus is to simply renovate existing dorms, then there are other options it could take. A new dorm could be erected near the River Cluster, allowing the other buildings in the area to be remodeled. The College could make foreign study and language study abroad programs mandatory, raising the number of students who are off-campus in any given term and creating valuable new academic experiences to boot while allowing dorms to be renovated due to the greater number of empty beds. Perhaps the College could consider capping enrollment at an even 4,000, freeing up space on campus and potentially saving money from the renovations. All these alternatives are likely preferable to expansion in College Park.

There is greater value in College Park than official documentation may suggest. The park is not simply a convenient stopover point for the “Twilight Ceremony” or an occasional haunt for couples. It offers students a place to escape, contemplate and connect with nature. On warm days, the park is a spot of study and exercise, of meditation and debate. And in the winter, “If in the Bema you get lost, / Throw your snow at Robert Frost!” Symbols of the College’s past, like Bartlett Tower, Shattuck Observatory, the Robert Frost statue and, of course, the Lone Pine itself are more than just their brick and bronze would suggest. These are critical resources, in the case of the observatory, and critical symbols of Dartmouth’s past, present and — hopefully — future.

The College needs to renovate existing dormitories, but compromising our landmarks and natural spaces is not the answer. The administration needs to think long-term and preserve these critical places, and if it insists on moving forward with building in College Park, preserving these landmarks must be its first priority. After all, what if the Lone Pine itself is removed to make way for this new building? It may be just a stump, but it is a stump that symbolizes Dartmouth itself. If the College’s administration wishes to remove the pine, it will make the school’s banner itself a lie. What would Dartmouth be without the Lone Pine?

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.