Administration opens conversation on new student center, Battell renovations

By RILEY BOARD

BENJY RENTON
McCullough Student Center could be torn down, renovated or expanded in a long-term plan to create a more vibrant student center.

Preliminary discussions about a new student center and a new residential building to replace Battell Hall have begun, according to Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor. Although the project is in its early stages, the college is in talks with Boston-based architecture firm Goody Clancy and has met with the Student Government Association (SGA) to discuss new developments. 

At the moment, the college is looking into the financial feasibility of the new student center and residential building, but won’t be breaking ground for some time, said David Provost, the college’s treasurer. The Advancement Office is determining how much money will need to be raised, and what exactly the money will be raised for.

As early as October, the administration will host a forum for students to voice their opinions on and goals for the prospective student center. 

“We don’t have a place on campus that everyone feels they’re a part of and that everyone feels accepted,” Taylor said, adding that Middlebury’s increasing diversity warrants a communal space that unifies students, as well as addresses widespread social concerns. Provost said that McCullough, the school’s current student center, is not sufficiently student-centric. 

Discussions about the student center have so far touched upon the potential for new food court-style dining options, a shared space where a variety of clubs and student activities can meet and store their supplies, places for students to gather, event spaces for shows or parties, and indoor-outdoor space. At this point, none of those possibilites, or any others, are set in stone.

Provost and Taylor envision the student center as the social hub of the college, a building that could be active 20 hours a day. They want to combine the socialization and eating that occurs in dining halls with the activity of the athletic center, the academic energy of BiHall and the social aspect of The Grille. 

“We want that vibrancy, we want it to be the hub, where students always are,” Taylor said. 

No location has been decided upon, but Provost has considered altering McCullough — tearing down the newer components of the building, renovating it or adding to it — or repurposing Proctor. There is also the potential for an entirely new building. 

In response to the “How We Will Live Together” housing plan that was submitted to the office of the Dean of Students last spring, the college is also considering ways to rebuild Battell Hall. 

“We have determined we need to build a new first year housing solution,” Provost said. “We are exploring what to do with Battell once we open a new first year housing unit, and are considering a renovation and a repurposed use or taking it down”.

“Battell renovation is not a myth anymore,” Taylor said. “We are seriously looking into it. Everyone talks about it — it’s time.” 

The new residential building, like the student center, would include ample student gathering spaces that are currently not available in Battell. 

Taylor and Provost said they have found pushback from alumni, who view living in Battell as a Middlebury “rite of passage.”

Like the new student center, this project is four or five years down the road — renovating a residential building is especially difficult because alternate housing needs to be supplied during the construction. 

Other long-term construction projects include the renovation of the Middlebury College Museum of Art, which currently suffers from condensation issues, putting the artwork there at risk. 

Although none of these projects will begin soon, Provost and Taylor said that they are all being seriously considered. 

“Do we have funding? No. Do we have a timeline? No. Do we have a specific plan? No. But are we talking about it? Yes,” Provost said. 

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.