New Residence Hall Is Finally a Reality

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - 11:45

Posted: October 15, 2008

It seems like just yesterday that MHC's new residence hall was a muddy hole on the south side of campus, where a parking lot used to be. That was back in November 2006. Today it's a luxurious, state-of-the-art "green" building, home to 176 Mount Holyoke students.

Like everyone on campus, President Joanne V. Creighton is delighted with the new hall. "Mount Holyoke has a powerful legacy of communal life that dates all the way back to Mary Lyon's seminary," she said. "So it was no small matter for us to plan and build the College's first new residence hall in some 40 years. The building is, I think, a wonderful acknowledgment of our architectural heritage, infused by twenty-first-century sensibility and technology. And now that our students have brought it to life, we can fully appreciate what a positive addition it is to our campus."

According to Rene Davis, director of residential life, many students signed up for the new residence hall in last year's housing lottery, attracted by the large number of suites and single rooms it offers. The building has 15 suites, 65 singles, and 27 doubles, arranged in six clusters of approximately 30 students, each with its own common space.

Seattle native Jenny Northrup '09, for example, said her favorite feature in the new dorm is her suite, which consists of four singles and a shared living room. "We can be studying in our rooms with the door closed and then come out into the living room and hang out. It's the perfect balance between being social and getting work done." Her bedroom looks out on Lower Lake and the woods around Stony Brook. "I can hear the waterfall. It's really nice," she said.

Northrup and her fellow students have been enjoying continental breakfast out on the terrace, which also faces Lower Lake. Residents of the new dorm are taking advantage of the dorm's fully equipped Golden Pear Kitchen (all residence hall kitchens are known as "Golden Pear" since the original kitchen in Wilder Hall had golden pears on its wallpaper). Another popular venue is the downstairs common room area, which features a television, pool table, and foosball table. Students gather there in the evening for "M & Cs" (milk and crackers). "It's a good place to take a break from homework and just chill out," Northrup said. "All the other dorms I've been in are nice, but this is above and beyond. People are really lucky to be living here."

In addition to the hall's lovely site and capacious living spaces, Davis said students also like being the first to occupy the new residence hall. "They want to leave their mark and be a part of making the new dorm part of the community," Davis said. "It's the life of students that makes it a residence hall."

The hall's green design is expected to earn a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certificate. "We're always doing our best to be green," Davis said, "but the new dorm has really ratcheted it up for the entire campus." Among other green initiatives, the dorm has solar-heated hot water and environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo and cork flooring.

John Bryant, director of facilities planning and management, noted that, "This will be our fifth LEED-certified building on campus and we've learned a great deal along the way. We focused heavily on energy conservation this time around and computer modeling shows this building consuming 45 percent less energy than the amount allowed by code." The building has an energy monitoring system that allows students in each of the six clusters to track their energy use and compete with the other clusters on energy conservation. On October 20, there will be a "virtual scavenger hunt," which will help students get familiar with the system and how to use it. "We hope this system can encourage the students to use energy more wisely," Davis said.

Bryant said that finishing touches are now being made and the project team is well into building commissioning. This process, he explained, "involves testing, calibrating, adjusting, and a general running through the paces of the many mechanical and electrical building systems. As expected, there were a few 'new building kinks' to work out. In this building we encountered hiccups with the access system, ventilation/heating controls, and not enough bike racks. Before we close this construction project, we want to make sure that all systems are working properly. So we are still running tests to make certain that everything is complete. Now that students are living in the building, we are getting valuable feedback and the information is helping us to complete the process."

The new residence hall also provides enough additional beds so that other residence halls can be taken offline for much-needed renovations. Safford Hall is now undergoing an extensive renovation that will include its bathrooms, common spaces, ADA compliance, and replacement of infrastructural systems (for example, heating, lighting, power, sprinklers, and fire alarm). Like the new dorm, Safford will also have One Card access to the front door and student rooms.

Davis sees the new dorm as a valuable addition to the College's existing residential opportunities. "It's wonderful, but it doesn't eclipse the 19 other residence halls. Those are still popular, too."

Looking back over the planning process, Davis said, "There were tough decisions to be made about the site and how to make it fit within the context of the campus. That was one of the things we nailed, down to the window design and the color of the brick. We've added to the graciousness and comfort of the Mount Holyoke campus. The new building fits into the campus and finishes that end of the campus. When I walk past it, I feel like it's always been there."

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