Take a seat: Middlebury adds 44 new Adirondack chairs to its lawns

By Zeke Hodkin

While the return to campus this spring has meant limited indoor interaction for students, Middlebury College employees have been working tirelessly to offer venues outside for conversation and socialization. One of the biggest additions to campus for the spring semester was a bevy of new Adirondack chairs. Wayne Hall, the Facilities Department’s supervisor of carpentry, paint and locks, oversaw a staff of nine to build 44 supplementary chairs for students. 

Beginning in January 2021 at the behest of the Administration, Hall and his team consulted archives for blueprints of the chairs that have been long enjoyed by students. The group cut out individual pieces, applied primer, assembled and then painted a solid body stain — of red, green, blue and other hues — on top. Campus horticulturist Tim Parsons and other members of the Facilities Department’s landscaping staff moved the finished products to the lawn outside the McCullough Student Center and to Battell Beach, where the ventilated tents had already been constructed on top of transported flooring panels. 

For Hall, the opportunity to make the Adirondack chairs was a welcome departure from his usual duties: fixing furniture across campus and attending to other maintenance requests. In any given semester, members of Hall’s division are tasked with changing dorm room lock codes and fixing desk drawers, window screens and shades. In the winter and spring, they dedicate a substantial amount of time to preparing for commencement. This year, however, with plans for an abbreviated, less extravagant celebration for graduating seniors, a pivot to other carpentry work in January and February was timely. 

“It’s a nice change to get in the shop and build stuff,” Hall shared, adding that creating plexiglass dividers has also been a task for employees in the woodshop. Most of the partitions his staff has created have been distributed to food and retail services across campus, as well as to the College Bookstore and the Student Financial Services office. The plexiglass is sourced from a local Middlebury vendor. 

In past years, other enjoyable projects for Hall and members of his staff have included creating the wooden newspaper stands for weekly printed editions of The Campus. “It’s nice to give the guys a chance to be a little more creative, beyond the rote work,” Hall said about the variety of projects his staff has taken on in his 27-year tenure at the college. 

The new outdoor seating has had a favorable impact for students and staff alike. Especially for first-years, the tent and chairs outside Battell have proven to comfortably accommodate group meals and weekend socializing. Near McCullough, the chairs have become a component of a pavilion-style setup, complete with fire pits and lights adorning the trees, adding to the spot’s charm. 

Assistant Director of Student Activities Valerie Nettleton shared that the chairs have provided student organizations and programming staff alike with a venue for events to draw students outside of their dorms during the winter and spring months. “We needed a place for students to safely be with friends that’s not class, Zoom or their dorm rooms,” Nettleton said. “We focused on making the outdoors more accessible and more comfortable.” 

Hall echoed Nettleton’s appreciation for the Adirondack chairs and other Covid-friendly additions to campus as they offer students spaces to gather outdoors. “This fall, I asked a few students why they came back,” Hall said. He was perplexed by many students’ decisions to return to a campus markedly different from past years. Yet the answers he received, which frequently cited a need to return to friends and to Vermont, brought the importance of his work to light. The Adirondack chairs, one of Middlebury’s finest accessories, have once again proven their importance during students’ time on campus. 

“We’re a service organization – we’re here to serve the students first,” Hall said, and his staff’s service has certainly shown with the addition of more than forty  much-appreciated chairs.