Big changes are in the works for Vassar: a new class of students, a new science building, a new year. Among this year’s coming changes will be a major renovation of the College Center.
Until 2014, the basement level of the College Center was occupied by the Vassar bookstore. Since the bookstore moved off-campus into the old Juliet building in the summer of 2014, the lower level of the College Center was used as temporary lab space to fill the needs of the science departments while construction continued on the science building.
Now that the science bridge is nearing completion, the basement and some parts of the first floor of the College Center will be reorganized and renovated to better accommodate student needs. The plan is being executed by Dean of Strategic Planning Marianne Begemann. According to Begemann’s emailed statement, “In the basement, the idea is to create a student space that will be open 24/7 and serve as a social/study/hangout destination that is flexible and inviting. We hope to include a servery with light refreshments, but those plans have yet to be finalized.”
Concerns over student space were the driving factor behind this renovation. Begemann wrote, “We have been hearing from students that they want a central space on campus that feels welcoming to everyone, and is mix of casual social space but that can also serve for group study.”
Certain renovations will also occur on the first floor. According to Begemann, “On the entry level of the College Center we are converting the SARC space in the north atrium into a ‘service center’ which will combine the help desk, computer repair, card office and general IT support for everyone on campus.” Begemann explained that the service center could include mail and copying services in the future.
In planning the changes, the Vassar administration reached out to students in various formats last year, including open forums and meetings with the VSA (Vassar Student Association). Many elements of the revamp, especially the study space with a potential new food option, were in direct response to student requests.
According to an emailed statement by incoming VSA president Ramy Abbady ‘16, the VSA has been involved in the planning part of the renovation process from the beginning, and will continue to liaise between students and administration throughout the revamp process. He wrote, “Dean [Marianne] Begemann is always very interested in including student input, so I am sure that the VSA will continue to have discussions with her as the renovations move forward. The VSA Executive Board meets with her at least once per month, and she has come in to VSA Council meetings before to hold forums.” VP for Operations Ruby Pierce ’16 echoed his view of the VSA as communicative liaison, writing, “Our job is to communicate student concerns to those in power, so that’s what we’ll do.”
The renovation is part of a long-term Master Planning process for the entire campus which began in September 2014, according to Begemann. The College Center has long been a site of change toward long-term campus goals. According to an emailed statement by campus historian Colton Johnson, “The College Center opened (about a year late) in the fall of 1975, as an integral part of a major campus renovation intended to better accommodate the ‘New Vassar,’ a coeducational college intended, when the coed decision was made, to nearly double the size of the student body. The building—which won a major national award for its architect, Jean Paul Carlhian—cost around $4 million.” The building was renovated for the first time in 1996-7, to serve a growing and modernizing student body. Johnson asserted that students were also integral to the renovation decisions made: “Almost every component of this renovation was planned in consultation with student organizations and leaders.”
As the renovations continue to move the College Center toward evolving student needs, this coming school year will see the space in flux. According to Begemann, “The basement level renovation will take place during the fall semester and be open in January, while the renovation of the SARC space will happen over winter break. This fall the service center will operate in the existing/un-renovated SARC space.” She assured students that the construction will not disturb current student life: “There should be minimal disruption to the operations of the College Center during the fall semester and winter break while this work is going on. The SARC office and campus activities support spaces have already moved to the computer repair and help-desk space in the north-east corner of the College Center by the kiosk.”
As renovations take place in the College Center over the next year, it will develop into a space the administration hopes will be more reflective of current student needs and setting up a new dynamic for future renovations to all floors. Previously designed to accommodate an exploding student body and then renovated to student needs, the College Center will be reimagined once again to grow along with Vassar students’ needs.