Wright oversees College renovation

by Allyson Bennett | 9/24/08 3:46am

Featuring the building of nine new residence halls, new academic buildings and new athletic facilities, College President James Wright's tenure has changed the physical face of campus. Although Wright does not classify himself as a "bricks-and-mortar" president, the College has spent $1.1 billion on new academic, social and residential facilities during his tenure.

One of the Board of Trustees' charges to Dartmouth's 16th president was the construction of new residence halls to relieve the chronic housing shortages that had plagued the College since the 1980s. To fulfill this charge, nine new residence halls have been constructed, and several others have been renovated during Wright's tenure. Construction is also a central component of Wright's Student Life Initiative, launched in 1999 to increase social options at the College, which mandated the addition of 500 beds to College housing.

"We really needed to think again about our residence halls," Wright said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "We needed to find more opportunities for students living off campus to come on campus. We needed to find more ways for students living in residence halls to have some greater sense of belonging in a community and less sense of transience."

After the College experienced its worst housing crunch in its history in the spring of 1999, construction began on a new building in East Wheelock, McCulloch Hall, which opened in fall 2000. McCulloch, which cost $8 million to build and has approximately 80 beds, placed sinks in the hallways to try to increase social interaction, a feature that arose out of student requests, according to Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman.

Fahey-McLane residential cluster, first planned in 2001, and the McLaughlin cluster, first announced in 2004, were also built during Wright's tenure, and opened in fall 2006. Both buildings were designed to provide more student social spaces, part of the stated mission of the SLI. These social spaces included more kitchens, lounges and large spaces, such as Occom Commons, Redman said. The buildings were also intended to resemble the College's traditional architecture, exemplified by the Massachusetts Row residence halls, Redman said. Fahey-McLane was originally estimated to cost between $18 and $25 million and houses 162 students, while the McLaughlin cluster houses 342 students.

Other residence halls have also undergone renovation during Wright's tenure as president as part of the Office of Residential Life's 12-year plan to update and maintain student housing. These residence halls include Gold Coast in July 1999, Ripley, Woodward and Smith residence halls in summer 2000, and most recently Hitchcock residence hall. Many of these buildings had housed more students than was originally intended, and the renovations aimed to return occupancy to its optimal level, increase the level of amenities in the buildings and add more single rooms, Redman said.

"As a result of being short [of rooms], we had overcrowded rooms for so long that we needed to decompress those rooms," Redman said in an interview. "Most of the triples, for example, in Lord, Streeter or Gile were originally designed as doubles."

New Hampshire residence hall is currently undergoing renovation.

Berry Library was also completed during Wright's tenure, opening on Sept. 19, 2000 after two years of construction, eight years of planning and three years of controversy, as critics contended that the building's modern design clashed with the overall atmosphere of the College. Construction on the building was not complete until 2002.

Heralded as a building that would bring Dartmouth into the modern era, Berry currently holds the College's social sciences collection, information and computing services, Novack Caf and additional study spaces. As part of the same project, Carson Hall, home of the history department, was completed in 2002 and Kiewit Computation Center was destroyed.

Major improvements to the College's athletic facilities were also made during Wright's tenure at a cost of over $80 million, according to the Office of Public Affairs.

"Most of the buildings were pretty tired," Wright said. "We needed to refresh them."

Alumni Gymnasium was renovated for $12 million to provide new and larger areas for fitness and recreation, improvements in air quality for the Karl Michael pool and better accessibility. It also included a new 14,000 square-foot fitness center that opened in April 2006. The center is more than three times the size of the previous center.

The $19.5 million Floren Varsity Field House was dedicated on Nov. 16, 2007. Located to the east of Memorial Field, the Field House has a 130-person "smart classroom," a study lounge, locker and training rooms, office spaces for four of the varsity teams and a 10,000-square-foot strength training center for the College's varsity sports teams.

The Haldeman Center and Kemeny Hall were also constructed while Wright was in office. Kemeny, home of the math department, replaced Gerry and Bradley, commonly referred to as the "shower towers" for their tiled exteriors. Haldeman houses the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Institute for the Study of Applied and Professional Ethics and the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities. The two buildings opened in November 2006 after two years of construction and were built to be "environmentally friendly" and energy efficient, Jack Wilson, associate director of Planning, Design and Construction, told The Dartmouth at the time.

The College has paid for these construction efforts through fundraising campaigns, most notably the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience. The Board has also used debt to finance some of the construction, Wright added.

"What I haven't wanted to do is have the facilities come at the expense of adding to the faculty and adding to the composition of the faculty," Wright said. "I haven't wanted it to come at the expense of financial aid for students."