New residence hall set to replace the Onion placed on indefinite suspension

Zoning laws, permitting processes and a steam line running through the intended construction site have all complicated the new dormitory project.

by Ben Korkowski | 1/27/22 5:10am

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by Alison Zeng / The Dartmouth Staff

The proposed construction of a new dorm complex on the corner of Crosby and East Wheelock Street — the current location of House Center A, colloquially known as “the Onion,” and three tennis courts — is still on hold over a year after its initial suspension. 

Originally announced in 2018, designing the 350-bed dormitory had been underway until the pandemic placed numerous construction projects on hold. Since then, other projects, including the construction of the Irving Institute and renovations to Dartmouth Hall, have recommenced, but the College has not established a timeline for the new residence hall.

According to vice president for institutional projects Josh Keniston, the proposed project quickly became more complicated than expected. 

“It is a tough site to build on: There is a steam line that runs through it, the Onion and tennis courts are there and it is a relatively tight space,” Keniston explained. 

Keniston added that the additional costs associated with these difficulties further complicated construction plans. Despite the delay, Keniston maintains that the site will “likely be used someday” for residence hall construction. 

The process of building new campus facilities is subject to Hanover’s zoning laws and permitting processes. However, according to director of Hanover’s planning, zoning and codes department Robert Houseman, the intersection at Crosby and East Wheelock Street is already zoned for institutional use. 

Houseman explained that given the town’s limited definition of “institutional use,” which excludes student housing except by special exception, dorm building is likely to be permitted at this location, but may involve a lengthy application process.

“Use cases for institutional zoning are education, government, hospitals and student residents, which can be permitted by special exception,” he said, adding that “[Dartmouth] would need to [first] submit an application to the zoning board of adjustment for special exception, outlining the reasons and addressing the criteria within the ordinance for the special exception.”

With the construction at the intersection of Crosby and East Wheelock placed on indefinite hold, and the announcement of upperclassman apartments on Lyme Road, Keniston noted that the Onion will likely stay in place for the foreseeable future. 

Students, notably, seem to have mixed feelings about the Onion itself.  

“The Onion is sort of a weird space… it doesn’t have a snack bar like the Cube, it’s not central to campus and there aren’t many places to sit,” South House Student Assembly senator David Millman ’23 said.

Sara Catherine Cook ’23, however, expressed her positive feelings toward the Onion. 

“[The Onion] hosts a variety of different events such as stuffed animal workshops and other catered events,” Cook said. “Despite it being a temporary structure, it’s pretty much always clean and has nice couches and sitting spaces … it looks pretty much new.”

Although logistical issues made the site harder to build on than Garipay Fields on Lyme Road — where the College has proposed a dorm structure that would be a roughly 30 minute walk from Baker-Berry Library — Millman said the Onion’s location is still more centrally located and desirable to students. 

“If there was a choice between the two locations, I think I would prefer the one that doesn’t require a shuttle and is more central,” Millman noted. “If the College is trying to find housing, it makes more sense to build around already existing dorms.”

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