Campus Master Planning Committee Hopes to Acquire New Land for University

Over the summer, Colgate University entered into negotiations to purchase 59 acres of land bordering campus. Located behind Gate House and the Africana, Latin American, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center, the acquisition of this property presents a new range of possibilities for the Campus Master Planning Committee (CMPC) to take into consideration as they work with Sasaki Associates to restructure campus.

According to Carolee White, the Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration and a member of the CMPC, who has taken over from former Vice President David Hale, the purchase of this land lifts a number of constraints and broadens Colgate’s opportunities for expansion.

“This is a piece of land that Colgate has had its eye on for forever and we have approached the owners on numerous occasions,” White said. “Unfortunately, it has never worked out. We are very lucky it fell into place this summer. It is one of those “pinch me” moments because we never expected the stars to align like they did.”

Sasaki has been working to design new plans that incorporate the property and will eventually present these to the CMPC. In the meantime, CMPC members have been considering on their own how the land can best be used.

“The land is relatively level so we could have dorms on that property. We know that the next thing that needs to happen is that we have to improve our housing stock. And a huge question now is where does that improvement take place,” Associate Professor of Religion and CMPC member Lesleigh Cushing said.

Cushing also pointed out how the purchase of this land could completely re-center the campus.

“It is funny how our campus layout reflects our history. The Protestant chapel is the center, and the ALANA Cultural Center and Jewish center are kind of on the outskirts,” Cushing said. “It is great that a campus of our size has these buildings, but they are way in the back and reorienting the campus by building dorms on the new property would centralize those kinds of fringe buildings in a very fascinating way. So I am very curious about what Sasaki will show us and what other members of the Committee will suggest.”

The CMPC began meeting over a year and a half ago with the goal of reassessing Colgate’s spatial design and providing a master plan that will be a working guide for the future. The CMPC is composed of six professors, several administrators, a Trustee and two students. Its first action was hiring the company Sasaki Associates to work with the Committee in order to evaluate aspects of campus and to suggest improvements.

After sending out detailed surveys to the Colgate student body and holding multiple forums, Sasaki and the CMPC developed a comprehensive plan which consisted of two main parts and addressed five main areas, including the campus core, the gateway district, village concentration, athletics and long-term flexibility. With the guiding principles of developing a compact campus, enhancing campus systems and promoting community, the first part of their plan was the construction of approximately 550 new beds on upper campus, as well as circulation and parking improvements. The second phase was constructing 550 new beds on Whitnall Field and a new student center closer to Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology.

“In a nutshell, there is a sense that we have sprawled in an uneven way. We have built things in moments of crisis, such as Gate House and the Townhouses, sometimes not having foresight about how they would shape the campus,” Cushing said. “And so one of the major things Sasaki wants to focus on is bringing the campus back together and making a much stronger center to it.”

Sasaki presented its plan to the Colgate Board of Trustees and, while the first phase was met with widespread approval, the second phase, which included building on Whitnall Field, resonated less with Trustees. Professor and Chair of the Art and Art History Department and campus architecture historian Robert McVaugh said that he did understand where the Trustees were coming from.

“I know from an architectural point of view, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Colgate is its gateway,” he said. “Quite distinctively at Colgate you enter, and then you see it. You have a kind of vista, a sense of Colgate as a whole and it really imbues Colgate with a singular campus aesthetic, this sense of being able to appreciate the whole. I don’t think the concerns of the Trustees were exclusively aesthetic, but I think it is a beautiful feature of Colgate.”

With the new acquirement of 59 acres of land, however, and the concern voiced by the Trustees, the CMPC and Sasaki Associates have gone back to the drawing board. Sasaki has asked for an extension of the timeline for the completion of the campus master plan from October 2013 to January 2014. This will allow the Committee to “continue its practice of obtaining input from various constituencies via open forums and fully integrate the possible opportunities presented by the new land acquisition,” according to White.

McVaugh said he is excited to see where the CMPC will go from here.

“I have great admiration for the people on the committee, for the people from Sasaki and the Trustees,” McVaugh said. “It has been a very good process and I know that it is hard to trust committees but I think this committee has worked very well. We always think that the campus we live in is eternal but it is always growing and changing and I think it will be changing for the better.”

The CMPC will be holding an Open House on Thursday, September 26 on the fifth floor of Case-Geyer to present the new plans and get feedback. All members of the Colgate community are encouraged to attend.

Contact Sarah Chandler at [email protected]