The Death of College Park?

On October 19, I attended a focus group for the planning of the proposed dorms in College Park, which consisted of twenty undergraduate students (who responded to an open invitation on a first-come-first-serve basis), college administrators from the housing and residential life offices, and a group of four sharply-dressed foreign architects from Sasaki Associates. After seeing the proposed architectural designs, the ongoing development of the dorms, and the rhetoric of the administrators, my inkling is that the future of College Park is in dire jeopardy. In order to convey as much information as efficiently as possible, I will report as accurately as possible what I learned from the focus group, and will explain how this information was conveyed at the meeting.

  • According to the College’s official administrative rhetoric, the project is not guaranteed, and is only in the very early stages of exploration. Upon my arrival, I opened with a question about the chance of the project being seen through. The administrator responded with the retort that nothing is ever certain at Dartmouth. Several other students asked the same question; they were also met with the same answer.
  • It was firmly stated that this massive expansion in beds would not lead to an increase in enrollment, a claim which this narrator finds dubious, at best.
  • One of the goals of the project is to “enhance the house system” and potentially allow for the co-location of first years, which means that all first years would live together.
  • Another one of the goals of the project is to “enhance and complement the landscape around the Bema.” Even if the Bema itself is preserved, the upper ridge of College Park will be drastically altered, with the removal of the observatory and development all along the area where Bartlett Tower, the Lone Pine, and the Robert Frost statue now stand. However, the architects and administrators ensured the group that these elements would be “preserved.”
  • As the Campus Services website details, the project will ultimately provide for a total of 750 new beds. To put this figure in context, the McLaughlin Cluster and East Wheelock Cluster – the two largest residential clusters on campus – contain, respectively, 342 and 332 beds. If the true goal of the project is to relieve the pressure of the housing crisis, the figure of 750 is surely hyperbolic, given that most buildings house fewer than 150 students, and most clusters under 300. The proposed dorms would be more than twice the size of any existing cluster on campus, which would make this the largest building project in the history of the College. The project is, to put it simply, massive.
  • The architects were very focused on sustainability and accessibility, stating that the project would have the highest LEED ratings for sustainability. Students, however, were not satisfied, and expressed their desire that the project ultimately be “net zero.”
  • The students did have a lot to say about the project. One admirable student launched into an emotional soliloquy about the importance of College Park as a space on campus, and was the only one to express disdain for the project as a whole. Her grievances were noted, but the focus group continued. Another student raised the issue of students living in close proximity to a relatively dangerous cliff, given the drinking habits of undergraduate students. Another student expressed his opinion that the project ought to be as sustainable as possible, and prove that Dartmouth is committed to the goals of environmentalism. How a plan that involves cutting down hundreds of trees and desecrating the best natural space on the College’s campus can in any way be considered “green” is beyond me.
  • The question-and-answer session with the students was primarily used to gauge what elements of buildings would be important, such as common spaces, study rooms, and dorm layouts.
  • The image on the Campus Services website is identical to a slide in the architects’ PowerPoint presentation, save for one detail that is not present on the website: the upper half of the diagram – the grey space of College Park not covered by the circle labeled “Study Area” – is encircled, and labeled “Build.” I asked for clarification, and the explanation was unclear. From my best understanding, the northern area – where Dragon now stands – would be the area where dormitories themselves would be developed, and the area along the ridge behind Wilder would be made into “study areas.”
  • Apparently, the area where “The Onion” currently stands was considered as another site for possible development, along with the old science centers, which still lie empty. The College Park site is of the most interest because of its proximity to the Green and the fact that it would still allow for a “walking campus,” in addition to having the space for a proposed 750 beds. However, College Park as a site of interest was actually something that was dictated by “senior leadership.” Given that the administrators in attendance were the heads of their departments in housing and residential life, only a few candidates are left for whom “senior leadership” actually refers to. It would be irresponsible – indeed, ‘fake news’ – to report that Phil Hanlon wants to turn half of College Park into dorms. However, it is evident that this is indeed a conscious decision by his administration.

My experience at the focus group left me very pessimistic for the future of College Park. Based on the administrators’ rhetoric and the questions being asked, and despite the firm reassurance that the project was not guaranteed, I am doubtful that we will have this beautiful natural haven for much longer. And given this Administration’s record of waging active war against the old traditions and indeed everything that true sons and daughters of Dartmouth hold dear, I’d take a walk up the hill and along the ridge while you still can.