College to develop master plan that will inform campus planning

by Cassandra Thomas | 3/4/19 3:10am

Environmental sustainability, historical preservation, protection of green or open spaces, and improved access to the center of campus will take center stage as guiding precepts for the next two decades. On Monday, Dartmouth will embark on a nine-month process to create a master plan that will inform campus planning for the next 20 years. 

Although the implementation of these plans will occur gradually over the next two decades, the process of developing the master plan allows a steering committee composed of faculty and staff to engage with the community to better understand how the campus’s design can improve the Dartmouth experience. 

Campus planning director Joanna Whitcomb said that the master plan is a vision for the physical manifestation of Dartmouth’s mission.

“We’re trying to create the best and brightest successful students to go out and be global [leaders],” Whitcomb said. “So what do we need to have to help [them] become that? Is it the best research labs? Is it fitness centers? A residential-academic experience? We need to figure out how we can help students, faculty and staff be successful.”

In the first stages of creating a master plan, the steering committee and an executive board led by College President Phil Hanlon will rely on community engagement and feedback in order to set goals that are in accordance with students, staff, alumni and faculty. Provost Joseph Helble emphasized the importance of public conversations that involve the broader Dartmouth community.

“The work of the steering committee is here to ask questions, challenge assumptions, offer directions, and get input and feedback,” Helble said.

Whitcomb noted that the committee is considering renovating older buildings on campus in the next 20 years.

“There are some buildings in tough shape, but we have to renew those buildings so that you, as a student taking a class in Dartmouth Hall, can hear your professor, can engage with your fellow students and can learn,” she said. “It’s our job to help figure out how to renew those buildings and be respectful of their past.”

She added that she also wants the campus community to have better access to the Green and Baker-Berry Library. 

“The heart of our campus is the Green and [Baker-Berry] Library ... [so] I would like us to end up with something that better connects the north end of campus to that center point as well as the arts and the athletic district,” Whitcomb said. 

According to Helble, there is a potential for repurposing the space currently occupied by the River dormitory cluster and make that area of campus more “accessible.” 

Dartmouth’s last master plan was completed in 1998. Since then, a smaller master plan in 2012 laid out guidelines for the west end renovations that are still underway, according to Whitcomb. Helble said that the master plan from 1998 cemented the idea that campus planners should consider sense of scale in any designing or renovation efforts. 

“That plan spoke to the importance of preserving open spaces and architectural harmony,” Helble said. “The sense of scale comes from a desire to be in proportion to and in harmony with the New Hampshire wilderness that surrounds us. We don’t want something that looks out of place in Hanover, and we don’t want something to feel out of place on campus.”

With Dartmouth’s 250 years of history comes inherent challenges for the campus planners in terms of sustainability issues, historic preservation and size limitations. Advances in technology will also be a consideration for campus planners as they consider how to most efficiently use space on campus. Executive vice president Richard Mills said campus planning is complicated by Dartmouth’s far-reaching goals.

“There is a totally legitimate line of thinking that says we’ve reached peak physical space,” Mills said. “Given the Internet, given technology, the notion that we’re going to build more physical spaces seems silly. … Since Dartmouth is a base camp to the world, do we want to build more physical space here?”

Another idiosyncrasy that the steering committee will confront is Dartmouth’s unique relationship with the town of Hanover. Often, decisions to change campus will have implications for the town as well.

“What’s really unique about Dartmouth — and I’ve been to a lot of universities in my tenure here — [is that] Dartmouth is entwined with the community,” Whitcomb said. “A lot of our Ivy [League] peers have gates and they do not have roads and sidewalks running through their campus. What makes planning difficult is that Dartmouth is so intertwined with the town.” 

Helble, Mills and Whitcomb all noted their desire to maintain the “intangible” quality that sets Dartmouth apart from other schools.

“I’m willing to bet that the first time you set foot on this campus, Dartmouth just had a certain feel to it,” Helble said. “Certainly, I was affected in that way the first time I came here. So, looking 20 years into the future, we will strive to provide space for all of our activities in addition to preserving the characteristics that make this campus what it is.”