Quad Update

August 12, 2013

As a team of engineers, landscapers, designers, and WPI staff worked furiously over the summer, WPI’s long-awaited Quad renovation began to take shape. Despite the challenges of big gatherings like graduation, summer camps, and a June NASA event, the project has been so successful that when students arrive, they will see a brand new space, not a construction site.

“From a visual standpoint to the untrained eye, turf notwithstanding, all will look as it will look when it is done,” says Chris Salter, WPI’s director of projects and engineering. “It will look the same.”

For such a complex, fast-track project, the work has gone mostly as planned, says Salter. “It has gone well, and we will have a more or less completed project in time for school,” he says. Students will notice signs asking them to avoid using the grass for anything but light walking, but will have the immediate benefits of a new Wedge terrace, spiffed up landscaping, and restructured walkways.

The double project encompasses 120,000 square feet and includes a renovation to the walkways, pathways, and Quad lawn that is part of an overall campus master plan. This Quad update involved removing all the grass and soil and then replacing both. Electrical work for new poles and new lighting and newly designed and planted landscape elements finish the look while offering everything from convenience to leaf colors that reflect WPI’s crimson hues. At the same time, the Wedge was redesigned, giving students a new terrace with fixed tables, a stepped sitting area, and a new access ramp.

Salter says the teams did expect the unexpected because building a 2D project into 3D reality always changes something. For the renovation, the something came in the form of cracked, chipped, damaged, but beloved, walkway bricks engraved for alumni and families. Installed more than 20 years ago, the bricks were slated to be removed, cataloged, and carefully installed in the new walkway in the same order. As the project progressed, Salter says, it became obvious that placing the old bricks into a new walkway wasn’t going to have the intended effect. With a  nearly 50 percent failure rate, the old bricks needed to be replaced with new.

With an eye to the future, the 7,000 new bricks consist of four colors that are placed in a random pattern, so any replacements will be less noticeable. And they look nice. The laser engraving gives a glass-like black finish to the engraved letters, says Salter. “This gives us good consistency going forward and good standards,” he says.

The Quad also has a cleaner visual appeal, with walkways designed for ease of use while expanding the Quad’s green space. Even the small details were not overlooked. The bronze hues of the Wedge’s windows have been replaced with a brushed aluminum finish similar to what the rec center has. In September, an illuminated stainless steel railing will come down the ramp, giving off a soft glow.

For now, students will be asked to respect the grass and keep off it except for light walking, Salter says, because even a few sharp foot turns in a Frisbee game can tear up the sod. “We call it light to moderate turf use up until the end of September,” says Salter, “but ideally it would be no use.” The sod might look good, but it won’t be very welcoming for gathering, as frequent waterings to help the sod take root will leave it soggy.

And while many projects of this scope would consider installing unsightly orange snow fencing to make the grass inaccessible, Salter says that is not practical, or desirable, on a college campus. More likely, there will be fun signage featuring WPI’s goat and possibly a general campus email asking people to be kind to the lawn. “Just apply common sense and be respectful,” he says. As colder weather moves in, the sod will be naturally protected. When warmer temperatures of spring beckon students outside, the Quad will be ready for normal use.

“This was a lot of work in a short time,” says Salter. “We had a great crew and great contractors.”

By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil