Building WPI a "Living Room"
by Elizabeth Walker
Reprinted from the Fall 1997 issue of the WPI Journal with permission
In the late 1800's, silver-tray tea lounges, smoky gramophone rooms and white linen dining distinguished the elegant union buildings where British university students gathered to debate, read and play billiards. These private wood-paneled unions provided the blueprint for the more egalitarian campus centers that today serve as "living rooms" on college campuses in this country.
Since 1871, WPI has grown from two buildings and an initial graduating class of 16 male seniors to more than 30 buildings and a student body that numbers nearly 3,500 men and women. But the campus still lacks a living room. That's about to change.
In October 1997, the WPI Board of Trustees approved the $17 million WPI Campus Center Project. The 68,000-square-foot campus center building, to be sited behind the Alumni Gymnasium, is being designed by Boston architects Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott. Fund raising for the project is a major part of The Campaign for WPI
The idea of a WPI campus center has been germinating for many years. The dream moved closer to reality four years ago when then-WPI-president Jon Strauss appointed a broad-based planning committee, chaired by Janet Begin Richardson, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and dean of student life, to determine what a campus center would add to WPI and define the right mix of facilities, amenities and services needed to create such a center.
The committee solicited the opinions of more than 40 campus focus groups, pored through information from earlier center initiatives, surveyed the literature on college centers worldwide, and visited campus centers throughout the region. "We began by asking, 'What's missing at WPI?'," Richardson says. "The most common response was 'a place in the center of the campus for the community to gather."
The focus groups also told the committee that WPI lacked adequate dining facilities, space for group study, small conference and meeting rooms, multipurpose rooms, and offices for student organizations. The proposed WPI center will have all that, along with a bookstore, a postal facility, expanded food and dining services, a game room, lounges and a campus information desk.
Richardson says the new center should make WPI more attractive to prospective students. Campus centers, she notes, can provide an immediate "snapshot" of campus life to potential students and influence applicants' decisions to enroll when academic and scholarship considerations appear equal among the colleges they're considering.
The center will also fill a void in the social and academic life of the campus, Richardson says, providing WPI students, faculty and staff a place to gather and explore common ground where WPI's diversity of populations-students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors-and its diversity of functions-such as offering academic programs, housing and feeding students, and offering students opportunities for social and recreational involvement-will come together.
"But even more than a gathering place, the center will be an important adjunct to the university's academic programs," Richardson says. "It will serve as a social 'laboratory' for promoting and nurturing the all-important learning and maturing that happens outside the classroom and lab-experiences that can be critical to personal and social growth that are so essential to the full realization of the WPI education."
Even without the gramophone room, the new WPI Campus Center promises to be a "living room" worth the wait.Maintained by firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: December 06, 2007 16:47:22