Envisioning a space where students, faculty, staff, and alumnae join together to dine, dance, socialize, and organize, Mount Holyoke College is taking steps toward creating an expanded and enhanced community center with dining.
The expansion of Blanchard Campus Center—already at the physical center of campus—provides the opportunity to create a hub for dining and student life services, to boost visibility for student organizations, and to establish a unity space dedicated to cultural understanding and civic engagement.
“Mount Holyoke is a place where students live and learn together both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Cerri Banks, vice president for student affairs and dean of the college. “The community center will be a vibrant hub of engagement, where students and other members of the campus community come together day and night for a range of activities including sharing a meal, attending a cultural event or performance or hosting a gathering.”
The $50 million project includes additions and renovations to all three levels of the building, including a pub and coffeehouse, concert venue, student club headquarters, and themed dining rooms with views of Lower Lake and Skinner Green. The improvements also will make the building fully accessible while redoubling the College’s commitment to sustainability.
A significant portion of the project will be funded through donor investment, said Shannon Gurek, vice president for finance and administration. To inspire women’s philanthropic leadership, an anonymous alumna has already committed $5 million to the project and will also match $10 million in gifts for commitments that exceed $250,000.
The proposed community center began to take shape in fall 2013, when the College commissioned Rickes Associates to prepare a Facilities Master Plan study. The goals were to assess the physical spaces on campus, and to explore ways to strengthen the student experience and the sense of community on campus. The top recommendation of the study, completed in 2014, was to consider building a community center with dining.
The College then engaged architectural and interior design firm Bergmeyer Associates, Inc., and invited members of the Mount Holyoke community to develop a comprehensive proposal for a reimagined Blanchard community center, with special attention to time-honored traditions, historical integrity, and the changing needs of today’s students.
The Board of Trustees reviewed a conceptual proposal in summer 2015 and will consider a final design at its regular meeting later this month.
“Dining is such an important way that students come together as a community,” Gurek said. “The 34,000-square-foot addition will be dedicated to bringing the entire community together around meals, combining the intimacy of the Mount Holyoke experience that alumnae and students hold dear with the choice, convenience, and connection opportunities desired by students today.”
A look inside the expansion and enhancements
Among the features of the planned expansion, the new central dining room will allow students with different dietary needs to eat together. Gluten-free, halal, vegan, and kosher offerings will all be offered under one roof. Students will be able to choose from small dining spaces, open areas with water views, and outdoor terrace seating. A “tranquility” dining room will provide a haven for those seeking a quieter sensory experience at mealtime. The “Skinner” dining room will bring the outdoors inside with skylights and a view of the green. The “Oak” dining room will be nestled among the trees behind Wilder Hall.
On the lower level, plans call for converting the great room to a social space for dance parties, yoga classes, concerts, and movies. A recreation space includes a central fireplace, game tables, and a coffeehouse and pub, where the entire campus community may congregate for karaoke, poetry slams or open mic and trivia nights. A grab-and-go station would offer light meals and snacks for people on the run.
The middle level includes a lobby lounge with a charging station, and the student life hub with offices for advising, residential life, student government, diversity programming, and religious life. The unity center and student gallery offers a space for open conversations and programming on topics related to culture and diversity.
The upper level will include offices for student involvement and serve as a base for Mount Holyoke’s 120 student organizations including the WMHC radio station, the Mount Holyoke News, and the Student Government Association.
The expanded offerings and extended hours will accommodate students’ busy academic, athletic, and extracurricular schedules, Gurek noted.
“The addition will provide a dining space with seating for a thousand people and create opportunities for the entire community to come together,” she said. “We can't wait to welcome students, faculty, staff, and alumnae to join us for a meal in this fabulous new facility.”
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