Design firm assesses College Park for potential construction

by Eileen Brady | 10/31/17 2:15am

by Tiffany Zhai / The Dartmouth

On Oct. 19, architects from Sasaki Associates, a firm based in Watertown, Massachusetts, led an informational presentation for students regarding the potential construction of dorms in College Park, a 35-acre open space near the center of campus. College Park is home to College landmarks such as Bartlett Tower, a bronze statue of Robert Frost and the Bema, an outdoor amphitheater used each year for class day and a candlelit twilight ceremony which ends Orientation each year.

Sasaki Associates, who also designed two temporary house centers for Dartmouth in 2016, has been contracted to explore the possibility of building a residence hall to hold 750 undergraduate beds, wrote associate dean of residential life and director of residential education Michael Wooten in an email statement to The Dartmouth. With 750 undergraduate beds, the proposed dorms would be the largest cluster at the College. Sasaki’s findings will decide whether the Board of Trustees and senior administration choose to move forward with project, Wooten noted. The construction would start in mid-2019, at the earliest.

According to Wooten, the goal of the presentation was to “hear from students about their lived experience at Dartmouth and how it informs the potential design of new residence halls, and to hear from students about the possibilities related to residence halls in College Park.”

Wooten attended the presentation along with director of residential operations Cathy Henault and director of campus planning Joanna Whitcomb, he said.

According to undergraduate advisor Ariela Kovary ’20, who attended the presentation, building new dorms would allow space for students to live while older dorms are renovated, rather than providing more housing for an expanded student body. Although the College is considering increasing enrollment in the future, the issues of building a residence hall in College Park and expanding the student body are “unrelated,” according to Wooten. A task force is currently accessing the benefits and negatives of increasing enrollment at the College.

The project presentation lasted roughly 1.5 hours and included an informational session and a tour of the potential construction site, according to Jack Burgess ’20, who also attended the presentation. He said that there were roughly 20 other students present, many of whom serve as undergraduate advisors or as members of one of the six House Executive Councils, the student groups that organize activities for the housing communities. Burgess, who serves on the North Park House Executive Council, had heard about new dorms potentially being built in the College Park area and was eager to hear more about the project and its potential location and appearance from the presentation, he said.

After participating in the tour, Burgess said he was pleased that the architecture firm was seeking student input, calling it “reasonable and thoughtful.”

“Many students talked about designing the space well so that common areas would create community,” Burgess said. “Other people talked about how they thought it was important that the buildings be environmentally efficient, [and others thought that] the buildings shouldn’t just look like any other buildings; they’d have to kind of be different because they’re in College Park.”

Tanguy Nef ’20, another tour participant and UGA, said that he appreciated the open discussion, even when there were differences of opinion between students.

“All the students were not necessarily on the same page,” Nef said. “At one point, we had an argument about the Bema; [I suggested the idea of] having kind of a community that hangs out in the Bema a little more, having an alternative space that would be kind of like the Green … people studying there, with some tables or something, while other students said ‘I like the fact that it’s only a couple of students there; I like to be alone there.’ There was open discussion. I think it was good.”

According to Burgess, the ideas presented by Sasaki on the tour did not involve interfering with the Bema.

“They wanted to look at the western side of College Park, not the Bema side,” Burgess said. “I think the administration was more focused on the southern side or the western side of College Park. It’s central. If a dorm were to be built there, it would have close access to the Green.”

Kovary said that some of her main concerns about the project involved building community, as the residence hall would likely house first-years as part of a larger first-year community. The projected location of the residence hall is near the Fayerweather dorms and Wheeler Hall, which both currently house first-year students.

She expressed concern about the fact that the new residence hall would hold around 750 students, more than other first-year residence halls on campus.

“In creating such a large complex, I feel like they won’t achieve their goal of creating community, and that’s what the housing system is pushing forward,” Kovary said. “If that’s their intention, I don’t think they’re going about it in the proper way in creating this huge complex.”

The students emphasized that nothing proposed in the tour was finalized.