College proposes new sites for dormitories

by Anthony Robles | 8/17/18 2:30am

Before an audience of around 30 community members, executive vice president Rick Mills proposed on Thursday afternoon three new sites that the College is currently considering for the construction of a new 350-bed undergraduate residence hall. The town hall meeting was the second of three meetings, each of which allow community members to give feedback on the three locations following a brief presentation by Mills.

The three proposed locations include the intersection of Crosby Street and East Wheelock Street, a location that would necessitate the removal of the three tennis courts and House Center A; on College Street across from the McLaughlin Cluster, a location that would require the removal of senior society Dragon’s physical plant; and on the location where Gilman Hall formerly stood. The new residence hall would also be used as a location for one of the College’s six house communities.

The first of the three meetings took place on Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m., the second took place on Thursday at noon and the last will take place on Monday evening at 6:00 p.m. The meetings have also been streamed online. All of the town halls were held at Filene Auditorium in Moore Hall.

“The purpose [of these meetings] is to create some forum where we can collect input from the community,” Mills said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “As I described, we’re trying to pick a site to build the next residence hall on. There are lots of factors that will ultimately go into the decision of what site to pick, but I think community input is an important element.”

In his presentation, Mills, while calling the construction of a new residence hall a “pressing need,” also stated that it was too early to have a timeline in place. He added that the College intends to have a fundraiser for the construction of this project and that it will likely be followed by several years of renovations to various other residential buildings on campus.

The College’s residence halls currently host around 3,100 beds and have been at capacity for several years. As a result, the College has been unable to undertake renovation projects on existing undergraduate residence halls, around half of which have not been renovated in over 15 years. Such projects typically require that a building be closed for around a year, if not more. Mills remarked that the addition of a new residence hall would allow the college to conduct maintenance projects.

The selection considerations for the new residence hall site include site-specific project requirements; the project’s impact on surroundings; proximity to other residence halls, academic facilities and the core campus; stakeholder feedback acquired during the town halls; and other uses for the campus. Mills added that regardless of the location ultimately chosen by the College for this project, all of the proposed locations would likely be used in the future for some kind of new project.

Mills said in his interview that there are constraints from the town of Hanover itself that would impact the construction of the new residence hall, including zoning regulations, height restrictions that prevent a building from being over 60 feet tall and the approval of the planning board. However, he added that these constraints would have more of an impact as the location and design of the building became clearer in the future.

The switch to a 350-bed project comes after the College decided in February not to construct a 750-bed residence hall in College Park, which College President Phil Hanlon remarked was “simply beyond our current financial capacity.” Many students, faculty and alumni had already voiced their concerns before Hanlon’s announcement, citing the threat such a building would pose to the park and the nearby Shattuck Observatory.

Mills noted in his presentation that there is currently no plan in place to replace the tennis courts or House Center A if the Crosby location is chosen. Furthermore, Mills said that regardless of the location ultimately chosen, the new residence hall would include a multi-purpose area that would function much like the existing House Centers.

Those in attendance on Thursday were evenly split between their preference for either the Gilman Hall location or the Crosby and East Wheelock location. The College Street location, however, was considered by most audience members to be the worst proposed location.

Audience members cited the impact that location would have on College Park — similar to the concern raised when the proposed 750-bed project was announced — and how it would necessitate the removal of Dragon’s physical plant.

One woman said that the College “should hold off on building on College Park for as long as possible.”

One positive impact that an audience member noted was that a new residence hall built on the College Street location would likely lead to sidewalk renovations along College Street, which is currently served by a narrow gravel path along the street’s right side.

Some of those who preferred the Gilman location noted that the Crosby and East Wheelock location would lead to more pedestrian traffic in an already congested area of campus. Another audience member remarked that a new residence hall constructed in this area would be a “seamless” fit.

Those who preferred the Crosby location often pointed out that the location was closer to the College than both the College Street and Gilman locations. One audience member remarked that Crosby was the best choice because the infrastructure for a new residence hall was already in place on that area of campus.

Jack Burgess ’20, the sole student in attendance at the meeting, said that he would rather live in the Crosby location due to its proximity to Alumni Gymnasium, other residence halls and the Hopkins Center of the Arts. He added, however, that it would be “nice” to live at the Gilman site but expressed concerns about the relative lack of dining options in that area of campus.

“I wanted to see what exactly the sites were and the ideas they had,” Burgess said. “It was nice to be able to share a student perspective. I definitely think that some of those sites are better than others.”

Regarding student attendance, Mills stated in his interview that it required a certain degree of altruism from students, as the new residence hall project would not impact any student currently at the College. He added that although alumni attending the town halls helped by presenting their own sort of “student perspective,” the perspectives of current students also matter.

The College’s housing problems have become more pronounced over the last year. In May of last year, the College announced that graduate and professional students would not be able to live in the North Park graduate housing because of an “unprecedented” admission yield from the Class of 2021, the College’s largest class to date. While the Class of 2022’s yield rate is even higher, the class is projected to be smaller than the Class of 2021.

The College last completed new undergraduate residence halls in 2006, when both Fahey-McLane Halls and the McLaughlin cluster were erected. The construction of these halls allowed the College to renovate Hitchcock Hall and New Hampshire Hall from 2008 to 2009.