New Academic Building to Celebrate Humanistic Thinking and Inquiry

The college will build a new academic building named the Aliki Perroti & Seth Frank Lyceum. The Lyceum will be located just south of the President’s House and will contain the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI) on the ground floor and the Department of History in the two floors above. Construction of the building is expected to begin in October 2021 and be completed by July 2023.

A response to the dire shortage of faculty office space and academic space on campus, the Lyceum will be a renovated and expanded version of the house at 197 South Pleasant Street, which was once used for faculty housing but has been vacant for a few years. In order to make space for this expansion, the historic 19th century Martha S. Hubbard House at 205 South Pleasant Street will be moved (while still fully intact) sometime this spring to a vacant lot at 21 Baker Street in town.

While bringing a modern style, the design of the Lyceum will preserve and highlight elements of the house that form its core. “[The house is] a wonderful example of Greek revival architecture in brick, and really is an architectural gem that contributes to the historic fabric of the campus,” said Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord at an open meeting held on March 2 about the project. The facility will feature a state-of-the-art environmental design to achieve operational sustainability and minimize the carbon emissions from construction.

When deciding which departments would move into the new building, the college’s history department was a prime candidate. “The department that felt, really, like it needed a new home and needed it soon was the history department,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein at the same open meeting, explaining that the department’s current space in the basement of Chapin Hall is prone to mold and flooding.

Chair of History Ellen Boucher added that there aren’t enough offices in Chapin for the department’s faculty and that the lack of natural light and good ventilation makes it a less than ideal workspace. “It sometimes feels just a little basement-like, you know, a little dreary,” she said.

The new building will serve to address all these issues, and also offer additional amenities such as an expanded community space for students to come together and use for informal study. “The design is full of light and full of movement, and it’s in a more open space plan, so we’re excited about the quality of the architecture,” said Boucher.

The motivation to move the CHI in with the history department came from the Lyceum of Ancient Greece for which the building is named, which offered an interdisciplinary and free-flowing environment where humanist scholars could gather and converse about the important topics of the day. The CHI is currently located in a wing on the second floor of Frost Library.

In addition to giving the CHI a “front door,” as Epstein put it — a space clearly recognizable from the outside as a separate entity — the Lyceum will provide the CHI with patio space that can be used to host outdoor events. “The facility is going to be really beautiful,” said Associate Professor of Music and Director of the CHI Darryl Harper.

“There’s a lot of overlap between the sort of programming that the CHI does and the kind of work that we do in the history department, so having us next to each other will be really nice,” Boucher added.Acting as a counterpoint to the Science Center, the most recent addition to campus, the Lyceum will emphasize just how important the humanities are to the college. “[It] is intended to create a space where students and faculty can enjoy the breadth of humanistic thinking,” Epstein said.