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Within the framework of the all-encompassing Strategic Plan, Principia College administrators are developing a Master Plan for the specific purpose of determining the future of campus facilities. This plan, which addresses the “physical outcome,” according to Chief Administrative Officer Peter Stevens, is developed “to help empower or support the Strategic Plan,” and it is examining what physical changes need to happen to Principia in the next few years. There is not yet a rigid plan. It is “holistic and comprehensive. It gives a landscape of where we think we’re going, but the path might change based on new information or evidence,” said Stevens.
In developing a Master Plan, faculty and staff are looking at a number of factors affecting the direction in which the school’s physical make-up is headed. According to Library Director Carol Stookey, some of these buildings—such as the School of Government, School of Nations, and the Marshall Brooks Library—are simply outdated and need either updates or replacing. For example, as building standards change, the library is falling further behind as it encounters problems with mold, HVAC, and other building standards. Stookey said, “It may be just as economical to start over,” due to the way the world has changed.
Another factor influencing the decisions being made is how best to spend the money raised and donated for the improvement of facilities. For example, the School of Government is at a point where it needs attention, so the question is whether money would best be spent updating the current building or building a whole new one. Stevens asked, “If we spend money, will we be happy we spent that money and be happy with the School of Government? Would we have rather spent that as part of a more expensive new School of Government?”
They are also working to identify the most important projects. “What are the projects that must be done next to support the programs and their strategic objectives?” Stevens asked. “You can’t build everything all in the same year—or even in the same five years—so how many can you do at once? Which one are we going to do first?” These are all questions that Stevens and others are asking themselves as they move forward with the Master Plan.
In terms of the library, the advancement of research methods and learning strategies has called for a new look at the productivity of the building. Production has shifted to digital, so the currently book-centered library must adapt to become more technology-based. According to Stookey, “we’ve wired the building as much as we can,” so it is time to start looking at other options to stay caught up. For example, she said the poles in the central stacks in the library are immobile. They cannot be cut away, so it may be time for a whole new building in order to re-focus on the technological side.
One vision that officials are considering is creating a sort of “academic living room,” said Stookey. It would be a “place to gather and share and do work and still be social.” It would be a more open space with some café areas; there would be a possibility of running into faculty, and all the student tutors would be in one central place. This way, students would not have to run all over campus if they have a question while doing their homework. They are determining what students need and “how we can make it really easy for them to get help or help others.” In doing so, they are figuring out how to fulfill their vision of a “collaborative academic venue” similar to common areas seen on other college campuses.
Planners must also consider the priorities for Principia. Principia has a rich heritage and has received a number of historical gifts, as well as gifts towards technological advancement, aesthetics, and some rare books. According to Stookey, “we have amazing things that donors have given us in the past, but we also know that technology is where we need to go, too.” With the number of different perspectives and visions, we are hoping to get the “best of both worlds.” People hope to provide the necessary support for the future of education without losing the heritage and architectural history that Principia possesses.
Another huge factor, according to Stevens, is that buildings are not the only things that are changing. Society, students, and education are changing, as well. There is a “giant cement mixer of ideas you have to sift through and sort out” as education is being transformed with the technological progress of the world.
“Every time I look at this, I hear a lot of support, energy, enthusiasm, and excitement about this project,” said Stookey.
Previous Director of Facilities Steve Fulkerson reports that they are “working with administration, architects, library and technology consultants, space planning consultants. There are a number of people out there helping us ask the right questions.”
Stookey said that the transformation process is “being planned in such a way that it would be as undisruptive to our current programs as possible. Every consideration is being made so that student services and faculty needs are not put in jeopardy during this time period.” Fulkerson confirmed that “there will be a student survey coming out in the next two weeks.” This survey was indeed sent out to students on November 3rd. Stevens added, “It is a wide-reaching and deep-diving process, and we will have the first draft of the plan by April of next year.”