Vassar’s student residential house system, in which students in all four classes live in the residence houses, obliges students to master the art of living cooperatively in a diverse community. The College has thus far invested in complete or partial renovations for 6 of the 9 residential houses. Given their aging infrastructure and need for greater accessibility, Raymond (1895), Cushing (1927), and Main (1868) Houses require major renovations in the coming years. There is a threefold need for a new residence hall, as included in the Master Plan: we will need swing space to enable the occupants of Main Building to be relocated during the renovation of Main; we need to make sure that our residential facilities keep up with the lifestyle preferences of our students and best support the mission of the institution; and we need a long term replacement for student apartment units which have reached the end of their useful life. For example, as noted in the Dober Lidsky Mathey report (see Appendix) the South Commons consists of nine mobile home units that do not sit on foundations and were built to address a temporary increase in student enrollment. A new residential house will nicely position the College for the eventual elimination of these units while providing space for student living while the renovation of existing residential houses is undertaken. A new resident house will also allow for the eventual decompression of existing living spaces to accommodate more intentionally designed approaches to a residential College experience. A newly constructed residence house will also provide insights necessary to develop future renovations of our older residential buildings.
Inclusive Learning Community
There are many elements that are already part of the fabric of the residential experience that promote inclusive learning communities. Any new or renovated residential house must continue to incorporate these same elements. In particular, a new residential dorm must integrate the House Fellow program that merges administrative and faculty housing into student residential spaces. This program, a part of the College’s shared governance, ensures engagement, mentorship, and intellectual support between faculty, administrators, and students. In order to accommodate House Fellow programming and student organizations, new and renovated residential houses should continue to provide generous community gathering spaces akin to the parlors and multi-purpose rooms of the other residential houses. These residential spaces should also include smaller individual and/or group study rooms like the ones currently found in Jewett and Davison houses. Taken together, these varying room layouts can help serve as intellectual and social hubs for the residential houses where different members of the community can come together. The new residential dorm might also consider incorporating spaces with furniture that can allow the rooms to serve as seminar or small learning spaces where regular classes can be taught. This approach could help the college continue to cultivate and redefine how it thinks about learning and teaching spaces.
The College’s recent commitment to providing a renovated central dining facility and services will place all of our students on the meal plan. This shift is largely informed by the notion that our seniors are a critical part of our residential college education. Currently, many seniors live on the periphery of the campus and are not required to be on the meal plan. This creates a leadership and mentorship chasm in the heart of campus that can be addressed through a new residential community. As we think about the needed renovations for Raymond, Cushing, and Main and the desire to bring seniors back to the center of campus, it is clear that a new or renovated residential facility should incorporate residential suites with shared common and bathroom spaces that can accommodate four to five students. These residential suites can fulfill the desire among seniors for smaller intimate living environments that are conducive to both their social and academic lives.
A new dorm presents the opportunity to study and incorporate sustainability into the building design unhindered by existing structural conditions. The biggest lesson learned from new construction projects at peer institutions is that sustainability must be considered a core principle from the outset of the project and must guide architect selection and building design.
One proposed location for a new residence hall, Joss Beach, presents the opportunity to explore geothermal heating and cooling for the new building. Alternatively, an air source heat pump system could be investigated similar to systems in many hotels and at SUNY New Paltz’ newly constructed LEED Gold dormitory. Both options would provide room level heating and cooling control, increasing occupant comfort and strengthening year-round program offerings on the campus. One added benefit seen with the SUNY New Paltz system is the addition of signaling contacts to the windows; if the window is open, the HVAC system receives the signal and turns off, thereby reducing energy usage.
The residential program selected for the new House, whether singles, doubles, suites, or apartments, will influence the number of bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms needed for the building and will therefore influence the water and energy needs of the building. Whatever the design, best practices for resource efficiency should be followed.