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Wellesley College planning up to $550m worth of projects to renovate, expand campus buildings by 2025

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 15, 2013 02:57 PM

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(Wellesley College)

Wellesley College officials are in the early stages of drafting a campus-wide development plan that calls for spending up to a half-billion dollars on projects to renovate and expand existing buildings over the next 12 to 15 years.

“This is probably the most significant renewal of the campus since it was rebuilt,” about 85 years ago, the college’s dean and provost Andrew Shennan said.

The newly-released “Wellesley 2025 Consolidated Program Plan” report considers four proposals starting with a “base plan” of the campus’ “most urgently needed projects” that would be budgeted at $365 million, an amount administrators believe the school could afford even under the college’s “most conservative” financial outlook.

An “expanded plan,” budgeted at about $450 million, would include several additional projects beyond the base plan, according to the report.

And, two options for a $550-million “comprehensive plan” – one with an “academic emphasis” and the other with an “integrated approach” – would include several more projects beyond the expanded plan, said the report, which the college completed late last month.

The process to develop the plan began in the fall of 2010, when the college conducted a study that “suggested a lot of our impressive beautiful old buildings really need attention and haven’t been significantly renovated for a long time,” Shennan said by phone Friday.

He said working groups were established representing five distinct parts of the colleges academic and student life initiatives – arts and media; the humanities; science and the environment; student residential experience; and wellness and sports.

The college asked each group to try to identify long-term priorities for not only buildings, but also programming.

“We thought it was important to ask these five groups to think big,” Shennan said. “It was a chance for the college to ask ourselves what would be the ideal scenario for buildings and programs for the years ahead for Wellesley’s students and faculty.”

He said that the groups were asked to think about what the college will need for at least the next decade or two beyond the plan’s target completion of 2025.

“I think there’s a danger if you lock the college into the short-term future,” said Shennan.

The groups at first came up with a combination of plans that would have increased the campus’ building space by more than 370,000 square feet, or about 14 percent, and would have cost the college an estimated $1.38 billion, well above its max budget of $550 million.

Wellesley then hired VSBA, a Philadelphia-based architecture firm, to help the college consolidate those plans. The firm and a college steering committee held a series of about 20 meetings with college trustees and top administrators and consulted more than 75 faculty, staff, students, and other campus leaders to draft the plan.

In April, college trustees approved the plan, which underwent some tweaks leading up to last month’s latest and “final” report.

Shennan said the college expects to use money from its operating budgets, fundraising and loans to pay for the plan.

The college will decide as it moves along with the plan whether it will take on projects in the expanded and comprehensive plans. That decision will be based largely on its financial resources.

“We wanted that flexibility,” he said. “We wanted to be thoughtful, but not rigid … because as we move along things will change, building needs will suddenly become more acute, perhaps programming needs will become more acute.”

“We really hope we’re able to go beyond the base plan, but we’re not sure how far beyond it we’ll be able to go,” he added.

He said the college hopes to complete many of the projects a few years before 2025. The plan will not expand the footprint that Wellesley’s campus comprises, though it does call for some buildings to grow.

Despite potentially adding some space on its existing campus, the school does not plan to increase the size of its student body, Shennan said.

A breakdown of the plan

Projects within the base plan would include: a complete overhaul of Pendleton West and building a 12,000 square-foot addition featuring class, studio and rehearsal space for visual and musical arts; and the conversion of now-vacant space in the Schneider student center and Physical Plant buildings for student services and administrative uses.

There would also be projects within the college’s four-building Science Center complex, including: renovating the Laboratory-wing; repairing infrastructure in Sage Hall; improving infrastructure in the East-wing; and replacing the complex’s greenhouses.

The base plan additionally calls for renovating dormitories Cazenove, Beebe and Munger halls, the dining area within the Bates Hall dorm and the Fieldhouse athletic complex; building an 11,900 square-foot dining facility addition to Munger; upgrading infrastructure for residence halls in Hazard Quad; and making other “quality-of-life and programmatic improvements” at other student housing facilities.

There would also be: improvements made to academic buildings Founders and Green halls and the Stone and Simpson buildings for health and counseling services, the potential for an Academic Commons in Clapp Library; and projects to upgrade utility infrastructure.

The expanded plan would include those projects plus renovating the Tower Court East and West dormitories and the Tower Court dining hall along with some additional infrastructure upgrade work.

The “academic emphasis” comprehensive plan would include those projects plus: renovating Founders and Green; building a 25,000 square foot addition to the Science Center featuring new classrooms, laboratory space and an environmental center; and completing other projects.

The “integrated approach” comprehensive plan also calls for renovating Founders and Green and completing other projects; but instead of a science center addition, a three-story addition to the Keohane Sports Center, including a new fitness center, would be built.

Administrators said in the report they hope that they could complete the expanded plan by 2020, while officials would hope to finish comprehensive plan projects by 2025.

The school is already moving forward on some projects in the long-term plan, including starting renovations at Schneider, selecting architects to renovate the Fieldhouse, forming a design committee for the Pendleton West project, planning to select designers for Munger’s renovation and the improvements planned for Stone and Simpson.

“With a framework set for the W2025 projects, the college can now begin the important work necessary to renew and reinvest in our buildings – our lovely, iconic, essential spaces – enabling us to achieve our educational goals,” college President H. Kim Bottomly said in a statement in the report.

“As with any long-range plan, the Consolidated Program Plan will provide broad guidance and a set of principles that will help the college make informed decisions on individual projects,” the school said in a statement on its website.

“Each project will be based on the concept plans that have been developed for each area, with the knowledge that those initial plans will evolve into a final design,” the statement added. “For each of the individual Wellesley 2025 projects, we will go through the normal processes of campus consultation and [trustee] board approval as we would on any construction or renovation project.”

In a memo to the campus community last spring, Bottomly said that administrators expect “to have a clearer sense of our future financing and fundraising capacity by the 2017-18 academic year.

“At that time we will be able to decide which projects are the most feasible,” Bottomly said.

The college said it plans to host periodic “town hall-style” meetings -- open only to the campus community -- to share information, answer questions and listen to concerns and feedback.

Two such meetings are scheduled for Nov. 18 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Jewett Auditorium and on Dec. 4 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Alumnae Hall Ballroom.

A W2025 website is also being developed. It will provide information about progress on projects, including logistical aspects of construction, such as temporary closures of campus facilities, entrances or parking.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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