Health & Wellness Building
The Vassar College Health and Wellness building, to be housed in Baldwin Hall, will incorporate the Health Service, Counseling Service, Health Education, and Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention departments, allowing these offices to work more effectively to support and promote the wellbeing of students. The collaborative work between departments will provide an ecological health model, covering education, prevention, and treatment, which encompasses all dimensions of wellness. The health and wellness offices uphold the mission of the college by providing support to students to enable them to progress to their highest levels of intellectual, social, ethical, and emotional development.
As currently configured, Baldwin Hall includes several administrative offices, such as Donor Relations, Human Resources, the Comptroller, and Payroll, in addition to Health Services. The College should move these administrative units out of Baldwin, relocating them to a new administrative commons, such as at Kenyon Hall, where they would be more easily accessible to visitors to the campus and would not consume prime real estate that should be devoted to instruction and student services. As noted in the Dober Lidsky Mathey report, moving these administrative offices out of Baldwin Hall will help create more efficiencies in terms of space utilization, administrative offices, and the kinds of health services we offer our students. This option will have the added benefit of freeing up Metcalf House for other uses, such as staging space for future projects at the College.
Inclusive Learning Community
The Health and Wellness Center should be designed as a welcoming and affirming space for all members of the Vassar community. Given that there can be stigma associated with seeking support for health and mental health needs, a building that is less utilitarian and more comfortable, warm, spacious, and inviting is needed to encourage the community to proactively seek wellness and prevention. Our community members hold many intersectional identities, and it will be critical that these diverse identities be reflected in the design and structure of the setting. It will be vital that the space be inclusive and welcoming, while simultaneously addressing confidentiality concerns for those seeking support and services.
In its current state, Baldwin is not an environmentally sound building, having been constructed before concepts of sustainability and energy conservation were widely accepted. The building does not maintain heat efficiently, and in many rooms, cold air flows in through rickety window fixtures that have not been replaced since the original construction. There have been water leaks in the building that have filtered down to the first floor, causing the ceiling to collapse. Baldwin also has asbestos tiling in the floors that has been managed through the years primarily by applying layers of carpeting as a superficial sealant. Rather than piecemeal and patchwork maintenance, a comprehensive internal renovation is necessary to transform Baldwin Hall into a sustainable and environmentally friendly building.
Baldwin Hall was built in 1942 and aimed to provide Vassar with a then state-of-the-art Infirmary. Architecturally, the three wings that are the hallmark of the building seem to have been designed to simulate the hospital wards of that era. There were medical consultant rooms on the first floor and individual rooms for sick students on the second and third floors with a central space that likely functioned as a nurse’s station. A solarium was built on the roof, and there was also a dining area for students, a laboratory, and an X-Ray machine on the first floor.
The building’s function as a 24/7 isolation infirmary became rapidly obsolete in the following decades, however, as antibiotics became widely available and quarantine to prevent campus epidemics was no longer necessary. Health Services now occupies the first floor of Baldwin and one wing of the second floor. The remaining wings house Human Relations and Administrative offices, but the hospital layout and numerous bathrooms remain virtually unaltered. Over time, the building has become increasingly dilapidated, and together with the brick, factory-like, utilitarian exterior, does not convey the feeling of safety, welcome, and comfort needed to invite students to seek care and refuge inside. At a minimum, the interior of the building needs to be thoughtfully redesigned and modernized. The current layout is no longer useful and does not match current expectations or needs for a Health and Wellness building.