With the latest developments on campus renovations, many students may be unaware of what Vassar has in store for remodeling the College in the future. Over winter break, the Campus Master Planning Committee, a joint committee of administrators, faculty and students in charge of advising the President on campus design, sent out the Campus Master Planning Studies to the entire student and faculty body.
The study, which was developed by an outside firm called Dober Lidsky Mathey, provides a detailed overview on the lackluster aspects of the college and provides recommendations on how to fix them. To summarize their 40-page report, the biggest issue with the current campus is not the tattered conditions of any dorm or academic building but the severe lack of staging space.
To those unfamiliar with the term, the Campus Planning Studies defines staging space as “[a] space where a number of departments and programs might be temporarily located while their space or building is being renovated.” In other words, if the College decides to close off a building for renovations, there is no other building that can act as a substitute during that renovation period. It doesn’t matter if the building in question is an administrative building, an academic building or a student dorm; without staging space, renovations can’t happen. This brings up huge question: why is the college focusing so much of its time and effort on a complete, large-scale renovation of the campus when it lacks the necessary space to actually implement those enormous changes?
According to the 2011 Landscape Master Plan, the administration has plans on exactly how the campus will look in the future, from huge changes in the campus circulation system to details on landscape refurbishing. Most of these changes have to do with increasing convenience as well as improving aesthetic design and eco-friendliness. For example, the Master Plan calls for increasing the number of parking spaces and replacing most of the roads snaking throughout the campus with pedestrian pathways. While ideas to improve circulation, implementing a new water system and combining Metcalf and Baldwin together are not bad, it seems like the administration is placing its own priorities over those of the student body.
It’s true that buildings like Chicago Hall, Blodgett and the Old Laundry Building need renovations to better serve the students, but improving the conditions of the dorms like Raymond would be the surefire way to truly improve the standard of living for students. After all, students may have classes in those academic buildings, but the student dorms are where they live. With this mix-up of priorities, it really seems like Vassar only cares about improving its image instead of doing what it can to most effectively make the students living on campus happy to call Vassar their home.
It really seems like Vassar only cares about improving its image by renovating Main Building or by renovating relatively obscure buildings, like the Old Laundry Building and the Kendrick House, instead of places of actual significance like the student dorms (especially Raymond). The primary conflict that I noticed while reading the 39-page Vassar Campus Planning Studies 2015/2016 packet was that, due to the lack of staging space, it’s tough to imagine the College going through with these renovations without making at least a large handful of people unhappy.
The Campus Planning Studies contains a plethora of prospective plans for the current campus, like plans of combining Metcalf and Baldwin into one health facility, but the most concerning issue I read is that Vassar has a severe lack of staging space.
It’s evident that many students are unhappy with the quality of Raymond and of other student dorms, but the lack of staging space makes this situation very complicated. If Raymond were to finally undergo renovations, where would its current residents stay in the meantime? Would they be squished into other people’s dorms? Would they have to stay in hastily made living quarters in non-residential buildings?
Either way, I bet a large number of Raymond students would view those changes in a less-than-positive light. That’s what makes this renovation issue such a perplexing dilemma. Renovations aren’t designed to be quick fixes; they require entire buildings or at least segments of buildings to be shut down for a long period of time. It’s pretty understandable why the administration is hesitating to fix up the shabby state of the dorm in the most need of repair despite student outcry and frustration. Upgrading Raymond would lead to hundreds of students without a place to stay for at least two years, something that will probably cause even more outrage than any maintenance problems Raymond is facing.
If there is no staging space on campus, then the obvious solution seems to be to make one. That’s easier said than done, since creating a staging space basically means the construction of a completely new building. Thus, it’s unfair to label the administration as some detached, cold-hearted entity that only cares about your money, at least in regards to this issue.
In addition, the Campus Planning Studies shows that there really are valid reasons behind prioritizing Main Building. I admit that, initially, I felt less than supportive of the administration’s priority to fix up Main Building when other buildings seem like they deserve a bigger focus. It felt like the administration cared more about improving its image than services to students. After all, Main Building is pretty much the face of Vassar due to its historical significance and its placement on campus.
However, it’s clear now that the College has our best intentions in mind. For example, the Campus Planning Studies notes how “Campus Centers of today are light, airy, active and inviting social space. Vassar’s College Center is not,” citing how it’s too small and often too crowded. It points out the inefficiency behind placing the Post Office in the center of the College Center and remarks how the Retreat “is a retreat in name only…[and] certainly is not a haven.” The message is clear that Main Building should undergo renovations at one point or another.
Despite all that, renovating Main, not to mention any of the other buildings on campus, cannot happen without staging space. This situation with campus renovations is a complicated issue and there is no easy solution that can solve every single problem. But in the midst of this complex decision-making, all we students ask is for the College to think a little bit more about the wellbeing of its students and finally address the problems we have been complaining about for years .