Trustees map out dorm plan

As early as next summer, the College will begin to tear down Milliken Dormitory in preparation for a new dorm, temporarily displacing approximately 37 students. At the same time, construction will begin on Williston Hall, which will be converted into a freshman dorm, forcing the permanent relocation of the philosophy and black studies departments to Cooper House.

“We decided to do the swing dorm at Milliken. Milliken will come down,” said President Tom Gerety.

This plan finally lends some solidity to the ongoing discussions over the past year about renovations to freshman housing. As part of those discussions, the Trustees approved a plan over the summer that will bring all freshmen to the Quad, have James and Stearns Dormitories torn down and lead to a host of other campus-wide construction projects.

When construction is completed on the new “swing dorm” at the Milliken site in the summer of 2003, it will serve both short and long-term purposes.

In the shortrun, the new 100-bed dorm will provide space for students displaced by ongoing construction on the Freshman Quad. Prior to completion, construction there will also spell an immediate need to house those students who would have lived in Milliken. “That means that we will have to expedite the temporary housing,” said Director of Facilities Planning and Management Jim Brassord, a member of the Residential Master Plan Committee.

This could mean students will see modular housing options at Room Draw as early as next spring.

“Under the plan, you wouldn’t see Milliken up there [in Room Draw], you’d see temporary housing,” said Acting Treasurer Peter Shea, who is also a member of the committee. Shea and Brassord both emphasized that they believed temporary modular housing could be made available for those students by next fall, when it will be needed.

This temporary housing will likely serve sophomores, according to Shea. “The freshmen will not go into the temporary housing,” he said. “Logic says it would probably be sophomores.”

In the long run, the new dorm will serve both to help alleviate the upper-class housing crunch and “may unify the east side of campus,” according to Gerety.

“That project is seen as the beginning of a much more long-term effort to reshape the social dorms into a coherent area of the campus,” Gerety said.

Brassord explained that any renovations on the Social Quad would be driven by three considerations: aesthetics, functionality and cost.

Though additional construction in the Social Quad area would not begin until the completion of the Freshman Quad renovations in 2007, the trustees have set the tone for potential renovations there by selecting William Rawn as the architect for the new dorm at the Milliken site. The winner of many awards for his work, Rawn is known for his more modern and post-modern architectural style, including a series of all-glass dormitories at Northeastern University.

Gerety said that the trustees were aware that some of the College’s efforts at “modern” architecture had not been all that successful. “Is the lesson to be learned from Frost [Library] and the social dorms that modern architecture mostly fails over time? It certainly is a risk,” he said. “We are all concerned about consistency.”

But Brassord emphasized that he was confident in the trustees’ selections. “I think that good architecture is timeless,” he said.

Gerety and Brassord both said that buildings on the lower part of campus by the social dorms could afford to be somewhat more experimental.

“It really is just a question of how conservative you want to be,” said Gerety.

“I think they’re willing to be more adventurous than on the Quad, but I don’t think you’re going to see a glass dorm building,” said Shea, who added that the trustees would certainly review suggestions from the architects before implementing them.

The Milliken and Williston construction represents only the first stage of an extended schedule that will stretch out until at least 2007.

Once the new dorm at Milliken is completed, the schedule calls for the destruction of James and Stearns, beginning in the summer of 2003.

The selection of the firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott to design the James and Stearns replacements, as well as to work with the current Pratt Museum project, stands in contrast to the selection of Rawn for the Milliken project. Shepley is better known for its classical approach to architecture.

Alexander Howe, a principal at Shepley, emphasized that his firm was sympathetic to the traditional architecture of the Quad. He said that they did not want “to make the mistake the library originally did,” referring to Frost, which many view as an aesthetic disaster.

“We felt that that firm was best able to design something in keeping with the feel of the Quad itself,” Gerety said. “We would like to adhere to the styles and the look of Memorial Hill.”

“I do think it’s critical to be contextual on the Quad,” Brassord added.

Following the James and Stearns project, the focus will move subsequently to the renovation of North and South Colleges between 2004 and 2005 and Pratt and Morrow Dormitories between 2005 and 2006. In 2006 and 2007, work on Pratt Museum will take place, converting the building into a freshman dorm. Each of the projects should begin in May and ending in time for the return of students 15 months later in September. The start of a new project will overlap with the end of an earlier project every summer.

The renovation of Pratt Museum is contingent on the successful completion of a new site for the geology museum and department, which currently occupy the building. “You can’t get freshman housing without it,” said Shea.

Shea estimated that, if everything goes according to plan, the new geology building would begin in the summer of 2004 and be completed sometime in early 2006, making way for the final stage of the plan-the renovation of Pratt-beginning in summer 2006.

A project of this magnitude inevitably presents a number of logistical difficulties. In this case, one of the biggest concerns will be the need to complete the projects before students return each fall. Running on such a tight schedule, even a small delay could result in insufficient housing come fall.

This issue will be particularly salient during the renovation of James and Stearns between 2003 and 2004, which Brassord estimates will be the largest burden on the College’s temporary housing supply. The renovation of Williston and the new dorm where Milliken currently stands will net an additional 100 beds, while the modular housing spaces should provide another 100 beds.

If, for example, an unexpected glitch during the final phase of construction caused construction of James and Stearns to press into the fall semester of 2004, the resultant delay could lead to a serious crunch. According to the construction schedule, renovations of North and South will already be well underway at that point. Together those four dorms currently house 327 students, well more than the 200 additional available beds.

But Shea emphasized that he did not think this would be a problem. “I would think if something was really off, we’d know it by then,” he said.