Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2007


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"No Finer College Site in the World"

"No Finer College Site in the World"
With a Centennial celebration scheduled for 2011, the campus is getting a $53 million makeover. Photo by Camille Vickers

That was the headline in The Day of New London on Nov. 29, 1913, as the two-year-old Connecticut College for Women began building on the site of the old Hillcrest Farm overlooking New London. Today, the 750-acre arboretum campus boasts 95 buildings ranging in style from the collegiate Gothic of New London Hall to the jagged modernism of Cummings Arts Center.

by Deborah MacDonnell and Eric Cárdenas

Visitors to campus exclaim over its classic beauty. But what they don´t see is equally impressive: Behind the granite walls and leafy vistas, the College is engaged in a massive program of campus renewal.

The goal is to ensure that classrooms, buildings and grounds will continue to enhance the educational experience in the College´s second century.

This summer the College expects to complete 100 individual projects with a combined price tag of $9 million. They´re all part of a 10-year, $53 million program to upgrade critical infrastructure, improve safety and energy efficiency, and transform some of the College´s most important spaces for teaching and learning.

And those improvements are only the beginning. The College is also finalizing plans for an additional $52 million in new construction. Those projects include a new fitness center; a new building to house the life sciences, mathematics and computer science; an international cultural commons to advance the College´s international programs; and a major renovation of Charles E. Shain Library.

“The work we are doing on campus now and the planned new buildings are strategically important for the future of Connecticut College,” says President Leo I. Higdon, Jr. “These investments will ensure the College´s continued leadership in liberal arts education.”

Some of the investments will address old-fashioned wear-and-tear. Ninety percent of CC´s buildings are more than 50 years old; almost half are 80 years old. Other improvements are being driven by trends in higher education, including increasing collaboration among academic disciplines, rapidly changing technology, and rising student expectations for campus facilities and the residential experience.

This summer will be crunch time on campus as workers hustle to complete 100 projects in the 10-week window between Reunion and Convocation.

The interiors of Marshall and Hamilton residence halls will be renovated with new bathrooms, elevators, fire alarms, sprinkler systems and climate control. (The exteriors were done last summer.)

Classrooms in Fanning and Bill halls will be renovated. New walkways, lighting on the Green, landscaping and signage will be installed. Several buildings will get energy-efficient windows. College House will get a new roof. “This summer will be extraordinary in terms of what gets accomplished,” said Ulysses Hammond, vice president for Administration at the College. “It will move us forward in a very visible way.”

By 2015, virtually every building on campus will be affected in some way that will improve the quality of residential and academic life for students and the quality of work life for faculty and staff.

Some of the most important investments will be largely invisible. These include new high-voltage electrical systems, increased bandwidth for the College´s computer network and upgraded heating and cooling systems for greater functionality, energy efficiency and improved air quality. In addition, the renovations will make the campus more accessible and user-friendly for persons with disabilities.

Some students say it´s like finding out you were assigned the best room in the dorm. Others simply describe it as “awesome.” Whatever the words, reactions are all positive when students have a class in one of Connecticut College´s newly renovated classrooms.

To date, nine classrooms have been completely renovated, and four more are scheduled to be completed this summer. The goal is to renovate all 46 large, shared classrooms. “Students and faculty spend a large part of their academic careers in the classrooms, and it is imperative these environments be effective in supporting new styles of teaching and learning,” says President Higdon.

Innovative, creative teaching is a hallmark of the Connecticut College experience. CC faculty members give their all to students, whether they´re teaching in a science lab, a field, a studio or a traditional classroom. And in today´s fast-paced, high technology world, the concept of the traditional classroom is changing.

Gone are the days when teachers simply lectured and students took notes. Now technology is woven into teaching methods, and students are active participants in the learning process.

During a typical class, students might run computer simulations from laptops at their workstations or a professor might project images from the Web onto large side-by-side screens for students to compare.

“Teaching now demands more visual and oral presentation. I can use the technology to add to my students´ classroom learning experience,” says Alexis Dudden, associate professor of history and chair of the classroom improvement committee.

The renovated classrooms feature new furniture, flooring and interior finishes; multi-level lighting; and the highest quality technology, including computer docks, wireless Internet access, and image and sound projection systems. It´s all managed through a touch-screen at the podium, even the window blinds.

The classroom improvement committee includes faculty members as well as staff from Physical Plant and Information Services. They work together to determine the key elements necessary to support teaching and learning in the classrooms.

Even subtle changes can have a substantive effect. Lighting, for example, can be manipulated to allow students to take notes while viewing information on the large screen.

Though all the rooms will be outfitted with the latest technology, care will be taken to honor the period architecture. The woodwork that frames the windows, doors and chalkboards will be refinished and preserved, and the fabrics, carpets and finishing details will maintain the feel of the historic buildings that house these classrooms.

One timeless element from classrooms through the ages is the chalkboard, and you´ll find it incorporated into every renovated classroom at CC. The classroom improvement committee insisted on it, knowing that it represents one of the most spontaneous and personalized forms of communication between teacher and student.

Faculty say they appreciate the attention to the environment where they devote so much of their career.

“Many of the renovations were made as a result of gifts to the College,” says Dudden. “These are gifts that affect learning and teaching in a very immediate way.”

When Professor Jefferson Singer teaches introductory psychology in Bill Hall 106, students sit in fixed, uncomfortable seats, and listen attentively to the professor lecturing behind a lectern and in front of a blackboard.

But next year, after a $1 million renovation funded by Lyn ´67 and David Silfen, the lecture hall will provide new, interactive educational experiences in an aesthetically pleasing environment. By seamlessly integrating technology into the psychology curriculum — including multimedia and wireless technology — Singer will be able to engage students in active learning.

During a typical class period, Singer might use the two new multimedia projectors to simultaneously project and compare images and documents in real time or for audio and video applications. Students with laptop computers will be able to follow along the lecture and access related web links remotely. Flexible seating with workspaces will allow students to collaborate and discuss topics in small groups. And all of it will be done within a warm and welcoming space that is conducive to learning.

The 150-seat lecture hall is used by a variety of academic departments including biology, geology, classics, psychology and film studies. Because it is one of the few campus locations that can accommodate a large group, it is often used for special events, colloquia, community presentations and lectures.

President Higdon said the renovation will illustrate the College´s continuing commitment to innovation in teaching and learning, as well as its commitment to preserving and beautifying the campus.

“This gift will make Bill 106 one of the most desirable spaces on campus,” Higdon said. “We are grateful that Lyn and David chose to invest in a project that is central to the College´s mission of providing a superior liberal arts education.

“The renovations will stimulate new thinking and new plans for the use of technology in teaching and learning on campus,” Higdon said. “This gift will help Connecticut College continue to serve as a national model for other colleges and universities seeking to develop effective and efficient curricula that make full use of new technology.”
Lyn and David Silfen have been generous friends of the College throughout the years. The College´s track and field was named after the Silfens to honor their philanthropic support of the project. The Silfens have also supported the College through the Annual Fund, arboretum, science initiatives and student life programs.

Lyn Silfen, an emeritus trustee, said that alumni, trustees and the entire College community must be stewards of the campus and its buildings and grounds.

“I am thrilled that we are moving forward,” Silfen said. “The plans for the campus-wide renovation are exciting to me, and I hope our gift, in its way, conveys this.”

Silfen served on the Connecticut College Board of Trustees from 1992-2002, and chaired the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee. As chair, she laid the groundwork for the College´s $53 million campus improvement plan — of which $3.5 million will be spent on Bill Hall. Silfen, who is celebrating her 40th reunion, also served on the College´s Campaign Cabinet and the Kresge Challenge Steering Committee.

The Bill 106 renovation is part of a $5 million project to renovate all 46 of the College´s classrooms. In addition to the Silfens´ gift, another $1 million has been raised to renovate 10 smaller classrooms.

Bill Hall, built in 1939, originally housed the fine arts, physics, astronomy and psychology departments. The building´s architects, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, are best known for designing the Empire State Building in New York City.

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