Strategic Plan III


The success of our academic and student development programs has always rested heavily upon the quality of our facilities. Over the last decade, significant forces have raised the bar for facilities even higher. Academically, pedagogical innovation has created a demand for classrooms and laboratories that support more flexible and interactive teaching. In student life, a more diverse and active student body requires more multifaceted spaces for activities and residential halls designed more intentionally to meet learning goals. In regard to athletics, more and better facilities are needed to support expanded intercollegiate and intramural sports, a wider range of recreational pursuits and heightened concern for fitness and wellness. Across the board, facilities are now measured by their responsiveness to demands of sustainability including the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and their ability to adapt to new technologies. 

Simultaneously, an unsettled economy has created additional, conflicting demands in the facilities arena. On one hand, there is heightened need for cost saving and efficiency. On the other, there is a growing, powerful “consumerist” expectation among the public of more amenities in all areas. Many incoming students arrive from secondary schools that have invested significantly in student space. So, too, have Dickinson’s peers, placing us at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Without doubt, the look and feel of the campus plays a key role in the decision process of prospective students and their families. In sum, our facilities provide first impressions to prospects, meaningful experiences for current students and lasting impressions for alums.

Dickinson has in recent years demonstrated a striking ability to respond to these multiple challenges with facilities projects that are as successful programmatically as they are visually. In the sciences, for example, Tome Hall supports the most advanced interactive pedagogies, to which Stuart and James Halls add a strong commitment to interdisciplinary endeavor. In regard to sustainability, three of our projects – the “Treehouse,” the new Rector halls and renovated Althouse—have received LEED “gold” classification. Overall, the Campus Master Plan outlines a broad vision for the future development of the college’s buildings and landscape. And we have continued to refine that vision through a special Quality of Student Life (QSL) facility study.

An examination of the Master Plan demonstrates, however, that we have major challenges in providing facility support appropriate to a high-performing college in the 21st century. In the planning process we identified important campus projects that have not yet been completed, or even started, to meet pressing needs. These include the construction of a third wing of the Rector Science Complex, initiation of a major effort to enhance facilities in the arts, the completion of the Biddle Field project and a new “varsity” athletic complex, a complete renovation and expansion of the Holland Union Building and both the renovation of most residence halls and construction of a new residence complex to reach student development program goals. Add to this list the imperatives of reducing operating costs and enhancing sustainability through projects that help us meet the President’s Climate Commitment.

The Master Plan offers us long-term guidance in meeting these challenges, but we cannot count on undertaking any of the major projects it outlines in the near future. Although we are just ending a major, highly successful capital campaign that included important gains in science facilities, we need time to secure further funding for large projects. Nonetheless, SP III includes a significant focus on facilities for the next five years. We must redress deficiencies that interfere with our academic and residential programs, speaking to concerns such as inequity in student residential options (some flagship residences have not been fully renovated since their construction decades ago). These efforts must simultaneously be designed to transition us to the larger projects envisioned by the Master Plan. Moreover, we need to invest in projects that will make the campus and the programs we offer attractive enough to achieve our goals for student recruitment—increasing “first choice,” yield rate and retention. Facilities improvement is not a frill or an option; rather it is an essential step to ensure the financial strength of the college into future decades. First-class facilities help Dickinson make the case that all private higher education must make in today’s environment: the experience is worth the price.

Strategic Goal A:  We propose an investment of up to $35 million in facilities projects over the next five years. These projects are intended to address pressing campus needs, position the college for transition to larger future endeavors, and—particularly important—immediately remove obstacles to improving our admissions and retention performance. 

Our guiding criteria in identifying projects for the next two to five years should include:

  • Projects that move us toward the vision of the Campus Master Plan.
  • Projects that help meet key challenges in SP III, including competitive advantage in admissions.
  • Projects that enhance our signature programs, provide opportunity for immediate impact and are highly visible.
  • Projects that serve a maximum number of students or attract student audiences previously unavailable to us.
  • Projects with little or no “sunk cost.”
  • Projects that advance us toward our goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions and climate neutrality by 2020.

Objective 1:  Science facilities. Dickinson has articulated a bold vision for science facilities and—through the construction of Tome, Stuart, and James Halls—moved well along toward fulfilling that vision. Completion of our plans for science facilities through the construction of the “third hall” of the Rector complex and creation of a “science green” integrating all of our science buildings remains our long-term objective. In the near term, we have immediate deficiencies that must be addressed. The biology department remains divided between the new Rector complex and Dana Hall, where conditions are inadequate to support our program. For example, the biologist in Dana who works with reptiles should be relocated to the Rector vivarium; others have found the woeful Dana greenhouse inadequate both for teaching and scholarship, including student-faculty research. Overall, physical division of biology—our largest science department—is seriously undermining collaboration necessary for a successful program. We must plan and implement an interim solution for current deficiencies. That solution should, ideally, provide adequate facilities for the faculty currently in Dana, reunite the biology department, remediate infrastructural issues in Dana making it available for alternate uses and imaginatively move us forward toward our overall vision for science facilities.

Objective 2: The Holland Union Building. The Holland Union Building (HUB) plays a critically important role as the campus center for student activity including dining. The Campus Master Plan imagines a major renovation and expansion of the HUB to address deficiencies that currently inhibit the structure’s capacity to support the college’s program and cripple recruitment. These deficiencies include significant deferred maintenance and modernization exposures, an entirely inadequate Dining Hall, insufficient social space, over-crowding and much more. Moreover, the Master Plan envisions a redone HUB as an integral component of a broader reconfiguration of campus thoroughfares, particularly through development of an enhanced Dickinson Walk. 

Informed by the QSL study, SP III recommends a more modest HUB renovation focused on two key elements. First, the cafeteria requires substantial upgrade. Students describe it as “too high school” and an impediment to a healthy social life on campus. Some changes in furniture layout, dining options and traffic flow have been implemented already, but more must be done to make our dining facilities work for a successful student life experience. Second, the HUB needs reconfiguration to fully realize its potential as the central gathering space for the campus community. For example, the QSL study proposes converting the current Social Hall into a “campus living room,” a highly interactive and visible gathering space for student functions and a simple place to meet. Contiguous space could also provide a location for late-night food choices and weekend dining alternatives, priority interests for our students. Similar improvements can be made in the lower level and exterior of the building. In sum, these renovations address the most salient HUB deficiencies and move us toward our overall vision for the building.

Objective 3.  Athletics and Fitness. Dickinson’s athletic facilities do not adequately meet our needs. Over one quarter of our students participate in a varsity or inter-collegiate sports, and a much larger percentage participate in intramurals, casual sports and wellness activities. In regard to employees, Dickinson has a reputation as a “healthy place to live and work” with a wellness program that generates additional demands, such as yoga and pilates classes, on our facilities. The Kline Center is simply no longer able to support this rich range of endeavor. In fact, the demands for space in the Kline are so severe that athletic teams are practicing at all hours of the day and night, seriously limiting opportunities for intramurals or casual sports use by students and our community. Unfortunately, the Kline Center is not the only space deficiency in the sports arena; we have renovation needs at Biddle Field (locker rooms, bleachers, restrooms, press box) as well. Beyond this, there are new areas of student interest which we are currently unable to support, such as squash with growing demand especially from our international student population and students from domestic private secondary schools. In all aspects—intercollegiate sports, intramurals, fitness and casual recreation—the inadequacy of our athletic facilities places us at a competitive disadvantage in admissions in comparison with virtually all of our peer institutions.

The 2008 Master Plan began to identify multiple facilities projects that are required to address our sports and wellness needs and the QSL study is providing a higher level of detail to our plans. While we may not be able to achieve all of our objectives in the near future, we must prioritize and begin to move forward on as many of the following projects as funding allows in the next five years:

Expanded Fitness Center:  An addition to the Fitness Center is needed to meet the demands and expectations of our students and to redress an area of serious competitive disadvantage (many of our peer and aspirant institutions have recently modernized and expanded their fitness centers). A new Fitness Center would also serve the needs of our entire community and would advance the goals of our employee wellness programs.

Squash Court Center:  Squash is a sport that has always been of interest to our international students and faculty, but which is also growing in popularity in general. It has the potential to attract new students to the college, especially internationally and among prestigious private secondary schools. The Kline Center currently has only two squash courts, both too small to meet the requirements of international squash. In order to satisfy a recreational demand of our community and possibly support an intercollegiate squash team, we require facilities for five squash courts, two of which could also support racquetball. 

Varsity Sports Arena:  Dickinson is the only college in the Centennial Sports Conference that does not have at least two field house facilities and lacks a separate venue for varsity sports—specifically basketball and volleyball. This glaring deficiency is the main reason for over-crowding in the Kline Center. Consequently, the construction of a varsity sports arena for basketball and volleyball, perhaps as an addition to the Kline Center, is a high priority. 

200 Meter Track Field House: Despite a very impressive program, Dickinson College does not have an indoor facility that can adequately support track and field. Here, too, we are at a serious disadvantage versus peer and aspirant schools. The QSL study has determined that the Kline Center cannot meet this need; a new venue is required. This new field house would also include multiple basketball and indoor tennis courts—other badly needed facilities. 

Biddle Field Facilities: Biddle Field has come a long way over the past five years, with the installation of two synthetic turf fields, new visitor bleachers, a new scoreboard and more. New locker rooms and a significant home bleacher renovation to include an improved press box area and upgraded restroom facilities remain to be done. The current locker rooms and fitness area at Biddle are very poor, undermining our program and inhibiting recruitment of serious athletes who are seeing vastly superior facilities at our peer and aspirant schools. We need to find solutions to the remaining challenges associated with Biddle Field renovation within the time frame of SP III.

Objective 4.  Residence Halls. Long-term improvement of the residential footprint of the campus will require full articulation of our vision for residential life and a sustained, strategically planned series of major investments. The magnitude of our challenge is manifest in deferred maintenance alone. Despite more than $20 million in capital investment over the past decade, we have yet to address deferred renewal issues in a majority of the housing stock. And we suffer both from overcrowding and an inequity in housing options that prompt student and parent angst, translating into major challenges for Student Development and Campus Operations. Beyond that, Student Development goals for the residential experience are rapidly evolving, creating a glaring disconnect between program and space. In sum, we face the interlocking problems of deferred modernization and programmatic obsolescence, both of which—as in other areas—have serious negative effects on recruitment and retention.

We can make progress toward a comprehensive plan by addressing two key issues in the short term. As our large Fall ’10 first-year class has demonstrated, at full enrollment we are bursting at the seams. Students are living in spaces originally designated for social activities and in triple rooms not designed for this use. And we have too many students living off-campus to meet our programmatic goals. A new residence hall would allow us to relieve overcrowding and to return students from off-campus for the full residential experience that we promise. Fortunately, there are financial opportunities associated with capital expenditures for new bed space that help to make this a realistic possibility in the short term, since new beds generate new revenue.

Second, we need to address the Quads, our residential area most deficient both in deferred maintenance and programmatic obsolescence. Beyond interior inadequacies of the Quad buildings, the exteriors, landscape and architecture are in serious need of rejuvenation. More broadly, the Campus Master Plan identified west campus, from the library to the Kline Center including the Quads, as a key challenge. This area lacks the look and feel of the rest of the campus as a result of the size, scale and design of both the buildings and the spaces—pathways and landscape—between them. We have over the course of a decade managed to renovate eight Quads buildings one by one, connecting them when possible to add beds and introduce new exterior architecture. We need to move forward on this area, renovating the two remaining Quads, extending the Dickinson Walk, improving landscape and—if funding is available—addressing the shortcomings of Kisner-Woodward Hall (possibly through replacement) and the McKenney Suites.

Beyond our top priorities, the college should consider moving forward as soon as funding is available on two issues identified in the Master Plan and QSL study as imperative. 1) Enhance residential options for seniors through a house model that combines increased availability of single rooms and quality social space with a program of mentoring younger students on academic and social issues. Stuart, Reed, Todd, Mathews and 50 Mooreland are among the facilities that might lend themselves to this purpose. 2) The college currently relies on a large number of small houses leased from local landlords to accommodate upper-class students. These houses are difficult and expensive to maintain. Eliminating our reliance on them should be a priority as we plan bed count for a new residence hall.

Strategic Goal B:  Dickinson has achieved a position of national leadership in sustainability education, in no small part as a result of the efforts of our facilities staff to “green” the campus. We must continue to apply the goal of greater sustainability as a key criterion in operations and in facility renovation and construction for reasons of greater efficiency, meeting our responsibilities under the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and enhancing our learning environment. 

Objective 1. One integral element of our sustainability initiative is to turn the campus into a “living laboratory” by adding an educational dimension to green operations and projects. As indicated in the report of our 2010 Sustainability Symposium: “In creating a productive learning environment and working campus infrastructure, campus operations must be a platform for curricular and co-curricular learning experiences, not a separate physical entity.”

Objective 2.  We must in the next five years undertake projects and continue to operate in ways that advance us toward the goals set in Dickinson’s climate action plan. For example, we should continue to set “silver” LEED status as a minimum criterion for all construction on campus and maintain our commitment to using sustainable sources of energy. Similarly, we should seek to follow the Master Plan’s guidance on reducing the intrusion and use of automobiles on campus.     

Strategic Goal C:  In tandem with targeted projects to redress deficiencies and seize opportunities in facilities, we must sustain a robust program on deferred maintenance, particularly as financial constraints make cuts in the maintenance budget tempting. We have had success in some areas, such as sustaining the attractiveness of the campus. By contrast, failure to keep pace with modernization of our residence halls has placed us in a very unenviable situation in terms of program and competitiveness.