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Dartmouth May Use College Park Land for Dorms

  • A jogger passes Bartlett Tower on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, on the grounds of College Park at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. The college has made plans to develop land at College Park while protecting the tower and the Bema area, an outdoor amphitheater. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2017 12:12:14 AM
Modified: 9/22/2017 11:47:33 AM

Hanover — Dartmouth College may develop part of a tranquil 35-acre wooded parcel near the heart of its campus to meet a long-standing need for dormitory space, school officials said on Wednesday.

School administrators have asked their architects to deliver plans in November for one or more buildings with capacity for 750 total beds on the western side of the natural area known as College Park. The earliest possible groundbreaking would be in 2019, with completion in the summer of 2021, officials said.

The potential project could address several needs at once for Dartmouth, which is contemplating an expansion of its 4,300 undergraduate student body by as much as 25 percent, as well as renovations to older dorms.

Given its location in the center of Hanover, College Park is both a treasured green space and, administrators said on Wednesday, an ideal site for easy access to classrooms and campus facilities.

“We are focused on College Park because it (is) in the interior part of the campus, immediately adjacent to other residence halls ... and it is the only available site with the necessary capacity,” officials said in a Sept. 19 letter to neighbors.

The park also is home to the Bema, a shaded clearing used for large events and quiet meditation alike, and the Bartlett Tower, a 71-foot-tall stone structure that replaced the Lone Pine, a symbol of the college, in 1895.

Although College Park boasts other features, including the Shattuck Observatory and a bronze statue of poet alumnus Robert Frost, the tower and the Bema are the top priorities for preservation, Dartmouth Executive Vice President Rick Mills said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“When you triage the things up there, the things that rise to the absolute top are Bema and the Bartlett Tower,” he said.

The observatory was built in 1854, making it the oldest science building on Dartmouth’s campus, and houses a 145-year-old, 9.5-inch refractor telescope, according to the college’s website.

Mills added that 750 extra beds will allow college officials to start making plans for potential renovations to two aging clusters of dorms: the “River” cluster, located beyond the Thayer School of Engineering to the west, and the Choates buildings north of Webster Avenue.

“There’s been discussion about the long-term future of the Choates and the River Cluster,” he said. “It became clear that we needed extra space in order to do anything.”

Complaints from students who lived in the River Cluster, which is somewhat distant from the center of campus, added to college officials’ desire to build close to the Green, Mills said.

“The last thing we want to do is create something that’s perceived as another River Cluster, that’s far on the western edge and is far from everything else,” he said.

Mills said thoughts of building in College Park predated — but could be useful in — an ongoing study of whether to expand the student population by between 10 and 25 percent. A task force of faculty and administrators is working on models for that potential increase and will present their findings to college President Phil Hanlon in March.

Dartmouth’s residential facilities came under pressure this fall as an unusually large entering class of undergraduates forced graduate students out of college housing near North Park Street — a dilemma more dorms could help with, administrators said.

Administrators this week emphasized that no decisions were final and noted that any such project would have to go through multiple levels of planning and zoning approval with town officials.

Rob Houseman, Hanover’s planning and zoning director, said on Wednesday that it would be “premature” to speculate about the community impact of a project that hadn’t yet landed on his desk.

He noted, however, that College Park is located in the “institutional” zoning district, which under town ordinances is open to many kinds of land use. A copy of the zoning code on the town website says permitted uses include “education” and “residential institution,” with a “student residence” allowed by special exception.

College and town planners will have to consider how to integrate structures with both the surrounding campus and the green space, as well as work around the “ledgy” nature of the lot, Houseman added. “So those are constraints that will need to be addressed.”

Dartmouth in the last year or so has battled with abutters to another major building project, a proposed indoor athletic facility off South Park Street. That dispute resulted in a town Planning Board decision against the project last year that the college is appealing in court.

The portion of College Park being eyed for student housing is surrounded by college property, however.

People strolling College Park on Wednesday expressed affection for the downtown natural area mixed with concern for its future.

“I really love this place,” said Samuel Mirkin, a first-year student passing through the Bema to meet a friend in the nearby East Wheelock dorms. “I come through here every day.”

Mirkin said he lives in the McLaughlin residence halls on the other side of the Bema and regularly walks through College Park. As he crosses the clearing, he takes out the headphones he wears everywhere else and listens to the forest sounds.

“I know they need more beds,” he said, but he questioned whether putting them in College Park was best. “Honestly, I think they should solve that by letting less people in.”

College officials in their Wednesday letter said any plans they put forward will “respect the distinct topography, ecology, and landscape” of the park — especially the ridge that divides the western portion where they are considering building from the east, where the Bema is located.

Dartmouth’s architect, the Massachusetts-based firm Sasaki, is working toward a November deadline to present the college Board of Trustees with plans to consider. College officials declined to make estimates of cost or building footprints before that work was complete.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.



The following letters were sent to neighbors of Dartmouth College. Continue reading after the PDFs.




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