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2013 Fall Issue 1 (September 27, 2013)

Facilities Master Plan: New Science and Music Buildings in the Works

September 27, 2013
By J.M. Hanley

Back in 1963, Carleton’s president didn’t yet live in Nutting House, female Carls were still cloistered in Gridley Hall, and newly-constructed Goodhue was considered the epitome of architectural taste. 

Fifty years is a long time in the building business.  A mandate to predict what kind of dorms, classrooms, and cafeterias Carls will want in 2063 presents quite a challenge.

Nevertheless, an attempt to answer that question is well underway.  Following the September 2012 release of President Poskanzer’s strategic plan, the administration set about fulfilling its dictate to “begin a Facilities Master Planning process that is informed by the goals and issues addressed in this Strategic Plan.”

According to Associate Dean Fernan Jaramillo, the process began at the beginning of Winter Term 2013, when President Poskanzer appointed a central committee, made up of “a broad and inclusive selection of faculty, staff, and students” and chaired by Jaramillo and Treasurer Fred Rogers, to take the reins.

Poskanzer, in his instructions to the committee, reminded them that “whatever we choose to build and maintain, we must do it …with appropriate regard to its impact on our academic profile.”   However, he also encouraged them “to balance our dreams of innovation and distinction against cold fiscal realities.”

One of the group’s first moves was to hire Holabird and Root, a firm of Chicago architects noted for environmentally-sustainable designs.  However, Holabird and Root were merely hired as consultants, not designers, so no blueprints are yet in the works.

“What we’ve been doing so far is getting input,” said Ernie Wagner, a partner at the firm, “The next steps are to take that data and come back and show where buildings might go, what might be good to renovate, what not to renovate.”

According to Wagner, the school’s top priorities are music and science.

“In music, the current performing venue is in rough shape and needs to be replaced with something,” he said, “And sciences here and nationwide are huge and keeping up the standard of sciences is really important.”

Holabird and Root have conferred extensively with specially-formed science and music subcommittees about the departments’ needs.  However, Wagner added, “the decision comes back to the steering committee and the board.”

Goals for the new science buildings, as presented by Wagner and colleague Noel Davis at a student input session on Wednesday night, include “increasing opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and research while meeting new needs.” 

In practice, that means renovating a number of the existing science buildings to accommodate more than one department.  One scenario even envisions the demolition of every existing science buildings and the construction of a new science center to house all of them.

These scenarios met with wide approval from students in attendance, who underscored the potential benefits of interdepartmental lounges and similar shared spaces.

“[We want] departments to have their own space but interact with other departments,” one audience member explained, “It makes a lot more sense than just having a bunch of different buildings.”     

Though the duo’s ideas for music were less concrete, demolition of the existing Music and Drama Center seems imminent.  The location of its replacement, as well as its design, remain very much undecided.

Musically-minded students weren’t shy about informing Wagner and Davis of the current building’s deficiencies.

“New practice spaces with more soundproofing would be better,” Joe Slote ’16 told them. 

More office space should also be a priority, he added.  In the current facility, offices for faculty double as practice rooms.

“There’s a desk at one end of the room and someone playing at the other,” he said, “it’s really hard for the prof.”

Even at this early stage, Holabird and Root is already applying its environmental expertise, according to Wagner.

“We’re looking at big principles right now,” he said, “open space, access to natural light, air quality, and so on.”

The master planning process is slated to conclude by June 2014.  Nevertheless, cranes and bulldozers remain a long way off.  With the plan in hand, Carleton’s Development Office will prepare to launch a new capital campaign to persuade donors to fund the new construction.  Meanwhile, new committees will be formed and architects hired to decide just what form that construction will take.  This latter step alone, Jaramillo said, would “last several years.”

Gill Fitz ’14, a student member of the steering committee, put it succinctly.

“Changes are not going to be immediate,” she said, “Come back for alumni weekends and donate!”

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