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College Considers Next Campus Construction Project

By Michael Schoelz & Darwin Manning

Over the next few weeks don’t be surprised if you see Ty Pennington checking out the dorms, Grinnell’s housing might be getting an extreme makeover over the next few years.

Well, okay, Pennington and TV crews might be a bit of a stretch but we do have Janet Stegman representing the Boston-based architecture firm, Stegman & Associates on campus and she met with various administrators, faculty and students to discuss future changes for the residence halls several times on yesterday and Wednesday.  For the most part these discussions were directed at brainstorming ideas for campus residency improvements and get an impression of the state of the college’s housing options.

“The meetings are about what types of housing options students are interested in,” said Vice President of College Services, John Kalkbrenner. “As the college renovates residence halls, we want to add features that students want.”

One of the biggest concerns for the college in all of its upcoming construction projects is accessibility.  In addition to the residency halls, the Forum and Burling Library are both facing substantial changes.  The S&B will examine the options for those projects and the possibility of constructing wind turbines in the upcoming weeks. But for the meetings with Stegman & Assoc. concerning the residence halls, equal access took center stage.

“There was a resounding consensus from everyone on the planning team that our residence halls need to be more accessible,” said Travis Greene, Dean of students. “They have met with faculty, students and staff, with people who would make sense from a disability perspective, FM perspective, curriculum perspective,”

But in order for the accessibility concerns or any type of renovation for that matter to be addressed, the college would have to find a place to house students while the changes were bing made. One option discussed would involve making an “East E,” or a dorm north of Rathje, replacing the parking lot.

“If a new dorm were built it would act as swing space, while other dorms are renovated,” said SGA President Gabe Schechter.

Left open to future discussion was the style of dorm, and suggestions varied from something similar to the apartments in cowles to something entirely different.  A less ambitious plan would involve purchasing more off-campus houses and relocating students there.

The renovation ideas were even more varied. Some stressed that we need more of large-event spaces like in Loose or Younker, and should aim for larger lounges. Others asked for study spaces within the dorms with white boards and table space, advocating for dorms with a more academic atmosphere.

“This meeting was for asking the questions: what kind of community do we want to form in each dorm?” said Schechter.

Underlying those discussions are questions regarding more institutional changes, such as plans to increase or decrease the student body.

“The 1,600 mark that we are at right now is just fine, we don’t get any great economic benefits from making it larger,” said Schetcher. “We might want to shrink it a little bit so that we could have more flexibility for where to place students.”

Stegman and Greene both expressed a desire for student input especially in these early stages when nothing is concrete. Currently, the plan is for Janet Stegman come back three or more four times this semester. The process will be slow moving, partly because there will be a combination of options considered and partly because many of the South and North dorms have not been renovated since the ‘70’s.

“This will be a huge undertaking, considering that many of our dorms are approaching 100 years old,” said Green. “We are due for a complete overhaul of the residence halls.”

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    Erik KocherFeb 6, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Correction: there were major renovations to the dorms beginning summer of 1980 thru 1983 and since then all of the residence halls have had life-safety improvements (eg, sprinklers, exit stair improvements). I personally moved three times my freshman year while these renovations were taking place.