College's proposed construction excites controversy

O n Wednesday, September 16, more than one hundred members of the Kenyon community gathered in Ransom Hall to view preliminary drawings for two proposed buildings and to make their opinions, or suggestions for improvement, known to those who would be responsible for the project. The event was also attended by several members of senior staff as well as many of the administrators, faculty members, and staff members who might be most directly affected by the project.

"We are grateful to those who studied the College's very real needs and came prepared to offer creative and thoughtful suggestions," said President Robert A. Oden Jr. following the meeting. He went on to say that, during the next several months, he and other senior administrators--with the assistance of the Columbus, Ohio, architectural and design firm of NBBJ--will study several alternate construction sites, some of which were suggested at the open house. He also said that special consideration will continue to be given to such concerns as parking, traffic and safety issues, protection of trees and green spaces, and enhancement of the historic beauty of the Kenyon campus.

"We wanted everyone on campus and in the community to understand our reasons for proposing this project," said Vice President for Finance Joseph G. Nelson, explaining that the College has been considering construction of two residential-style buildings, one to the north and one to the south of 207 Chase Avenue, as well as parking areas to serve them. "Many members of the administration, faculty, and staff work in cramped and otherwise far-from-optimal conditions. Construction of these two buildings would give us a chance to do something about that, at least for a good number of those people, and to provide some much-needed meeting rooms and offices for student organizations as well."

Nelson noted that the proposed site was chosen, in part, because it would permit the College to gain a large amount of space without encroaching upon the most historic part of the campus. Every effort would be made to preserve existing trees, and new plantings would be installed to minimize the visual impact of parking areas.

Nelson added that a move of Human Resources and Finance to a new structure would allow the College to consider returning a part of the space between Walton House and Chalmers Library, a space now wholly devoted to parking, into a natural area.

A number of students and other residents of the area in which the new buildings would be constructed expressed concerns about various aspects of the plan. The parking lots were subjected to the most criticism, on grounds ranging from the environmental to the esthetic. On a related topic, some of those who live along Ward Street, on which the parking lots might have entrances and exits, were dismayed at the prospect of additional traffic on a street where children sometimes play.

Others focused on what they see as larger issues, including whether the proposed project represents the best use of resources and whether the campus is becoming overdeveloped. Among this latter group is Ward Street's P.F. Kluge '64, writer-in-residence and visiting professor of English. In an e-mail message preceding the open house, he urged community members to attend the meeting and register their opinions, saying, "I believe the north end of campus is as full and complete as the south and that the current plan is as troubling as designating, say, the lawn between Ascension and Ransom as a building site. Is there a need for new construction? Yes, probably. But not there. Not now. Not ever."

At whatever site is finally chosen, if Kenyon proceeds with construction of the two buildings--one of which would house the Office of Finance and the Office of Human Resources, the other the College Relations Division--the College could address a number of needs and take advantage of several opportunities.

The needs include offices for visiting faculty members and for regular faculty members on sabbatical; offices for the Kenyon Review, whose staff currently occupies the basement of Sunset Cottage; office and seminar spaces for the writer-in-residence and other faculty members in creative writing; and centralized offices for the Student Affairs Division, along with additional spaces for student organizations and for students to gather informally.

Among the other needs is a more appropriate site for the College's Career Development Center (CDC). Because the Office of the Associate Provost and some allied academic activities (e.g., the North Central Association reaccreditation project) have moved into 105 College-Park Street, the CDC has had to move temporarily to 207 Chase Avenue, far from most everyday student traffic. In addition, the Office of Human Resources now occupies cramped quarters in Walton House with no room either to bring together all those who are a part of the office's staff or for any private meeting space.

The current quarters for the College Relations Division are inadequate to its needs. The division, and the College as a whole, also suffers from the lack of an attractive and convenient area for welcoming returning Kenyon graduates and visiting parents to Gambier.

Among the opportunities presented by the construction of a new facility for the Office of Finance and the Office of Human Resources would be relocation of the Kenyon Review offices to Walton House, which would also accommodate offices and seminar rooms for creative writing. The building at 207 Chase Avenue, temporarily occupied by the Career Development Center, would be made available for a number of faculty offices, probably for visitors and those on sabbatical leaves.

Construction of a new facility devoted solely to College Relations would allow the College to plan a suitable arrangement of work spaces and meeting rooms for the division's three constituent offices: Alumni and Parent Relations and Annual Funds, Development, and Public Affairs. The building would also offer a reception area for returning alumni and visiting parents.

Upon completion of a new College Relations facility, many of the Student Affairs Division's offices--Dean of Students, Associate Dean of Students, Academic Advising, Multicultural Affairs, Residential Life and Summer Conferences, and Board of Campus Ministries--would move into the buildings now occupied by College Relations, thus providing a more centralized student-affairs operation. There would also be student-union-type meeting and office spaces for student organizations and an informal student gathering space with twenty-four-hour accessibility.

With the residential life and summer conferences staff vacating its current offices in Gund Commons, those spaces would become available for the Office of Student Activities (and allow for the removal of part of the "bubble" in the central lobby). This would allow the director of student activities to function more easily as the director of Gund Commons, insuring better use of an underutilized space for student recreation, meetings, and informal gatherings.

The CDC would move into the building on Gaskin Avenue occupied by the dean of students and various members of his staff, providing this important office with a central and prominent campus location.

The movement of the Office of Human Resources into one of the new structures proposed for Chase Avenue would allow this office to have sufficient office and meeting space and also to remain in close proximity to the Office of Finance.

"A distinctive aspect of the Kenyon tradition is to explore problems together and with courtesy to everyone," Oden observed. "It is a joy to witness the continuation of this tradition as we seek the best solutions to the College's space needs."

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