When Munroe Hall was built in 1947, accessibility, air conditioning and general safety standards were not a priority. All of these problems will be addressed in the building’s yearlong renovation, set to begin in June.
Although Munroe has been around for over 70 years, the college has made few changes in that time. Consequently, the building hosts multiple components that do not meet ADA standards. Every entrance to Munroe opens to a set of stairs, doorways and bathrooms are too narrow to be wheelchair-accessible and elevators are nowhere to be found.
Michael Sheridan, chair of the Sociology/Anthropology Department, which is located in the building, believes the proposed renovations will go a long way toward making Middlebury a more inclusive community.
“I get very frustrated watching someone on crutches struggle up to the fourth floor for class,” Sheridan said. “I once had a student in a wheelchair who could not even enter Munroe.”
The proposal also addresses concerns about the safety and comfort of students. The antiquated building has no automatic sprinkler system for fire protection, no ventilation and a heating system that is variable and inaccurate. The doorways and roofing system are not insulated and the classrooms and faculty offices are poorly furnished.
“We are hitting every single component of the building,” said Project Manager Tom McGinn.
The project received final approval from the Board of Trustees just last week. According to McGinn, the design has been in the works for about a year. The staff and faculty housed in Munroe, largely from the departments of Religion, Sociology/Anthropology and Political Science, have provided input throughout the process.
“We’ve tried to accommodate all of their requests, but of course there are larger college considerations as well. Within every group there is always difference of opinion. I think they’ll be happy with it,” McGinn said.
The proposed renovations include the same nine classrooms and 43 faculty offices it currently holds, along with the addition of an open common room on the second floor. All new single-user restrooms and brand new furnishings will create a more welcoming environment. Air conditioning, ventilation and new windows will add a level of energy efficiency the building previously lacked.
McGinn noted that Munroe’s location in the middle of campus means pedestrian traffic will be interrupted for a short period of time during construction. The site will be fenced off and temporary walkways will be created to decrease the disruption as much as possible.
The staff and faculty will temporarily relocate to the brand new 75 Shannon Street building, located behind Wright Theater. This building, often referred to as a “swing-space,” was built to accommodate the college’s rapidly expanding computer science program, which will occupy the second floor. The Munroe residents will move into the first floor while their building is under renovation.
Faculty members have expressed concerns over the temporary cubicles that will serve as staff offices on the first floor of the interim academic space.
“I worry about holding private conversations with students in the temporary offices,” said Matt Dickinson, professor of Political Science. “I suspect I will have to find another place to hold office hours for the coming academic year.”
The college’s announcement about the temporary building last summer garnered mixed reactions. One commenter on the news release applauded the college for updating some of its older buildings.
“Great to hear Warner and Munroe will finally move out of the late 1970s and into an ADA compliant world,” they said.
Others criticized the building’s metal exterior, which does not match the college’s quintessential stone style.
“Please find a way to make the outside more attractive/similar to the traditional Midd buildings. It looks like a building you’d expect to see in a big city setting, not in the beautiful Champlain Valley,” one reader commented.
McGinn conceded that the new building does not boast the grandeur that some other parts of campus are known for.
“When you go in you say, wow this is really cool. Is it a stone building with a pitched roof? No. But it is not in the middle of campus. It is tucked away, and it is allowing us to get into Munroe and possibly many other buildings,” McGinn said.
Munroe’s renovation marks the beginning of the college’s 10-year Academic Space Master Plan. Upon its completion in the summer of 2020, the college will begin work on Warner Hall. Other future projects may include the renovation of Johnson Memorial Building and Adirondack House — home of the Center for Careers and Internships — both of which possess similar accessibility concerns to Munroe’s.
“It’s nice to see that Middlebury is investing equally in the social sciences as they are in the sciences,” said Gia Gould ’19, a Political Science major. “It’s important to communicate that all fields of study hold equal value to the liberal arts education.”