True student center not serviced by Goodrich Hall

The screen rolls down, the lights dim, and the plaintive theme song begins echoing about the rafters. It is Wednesday, 8:00, and a public showing of Dawson’s Creek has just begun in the Goodrich Great Room.

Taste in pop culture aside, this could be seen as a great opportunity to close one’s books and socialize. Instead, the sounds of high school angst are drowned out by the grumbles of people on the mezzanine, valiantly trying to study. Dawson’s audience consists of a handful of embarrassed viewers, self-consciously pretending to read.

This does not have the feel of a student center. And, contends Dean of Students Peter Murphy, it was never designed to. An integral voice in the concept and design, Murphy says “I never thought of it as a student center.” Instead, it was designed from the start to be a quiet place to gather, study and socialize over coffee and email terminals. The clusters of furniture, small tables, full coffee bar and striking ambience all serve to enforce this design intention.

Public showings of WB shows probably weren’t on the radar when designs for Goodrich were developed. But there are few other places on campus where students can gather and relax. Goodrich has begun balancing a fine line between loud television lounge and quiet social space, and administrators are not ignorant of this fact Murphy explains that “what students are noticing about Goodrich is that it is only half a plan.”

According to Murphy, the other half of the plan involves major renovations to Baxter Hall in order to make it a full scale Student Center. Baxter is the most centralized building on campus, and houses the mailroom, snack bar and the school’s largest dining hall. But while this space is visited daily by most students, it does not have the feel nor the amenities of a centralized student social center.

In a recent interview with the Record, President of the College Carl Vogt explained that Baxter was never meant to serve the entire school.

Constructed in the 1950s, it was “built for a much smaller constituency, basically, the freshman class,” at a time when fraternities provided most of the social space for the upperclassmen. It was “never intended to be the answer to having a student center” – at the time, there was no need.

Many students would contend that there is a very real need today. Matt Wessler ’01, a Junior Advisor, comments that “first-years come to me saying they wish there was a place on campus to just go and hang out,” emphasizing that the importance of a casual atmosphere for those “who don’t want to drink.”

Wessler and fellow JA Hillary Williams ’01, cited “comfy furniture, a relaxed atmosphere, big-screen TVs, an all-night snack bar and pool tables” as essentials for a good student center.

Though Wessler and Williams’ list might seem rather optimistic, it is completely in line with what Murphy sees for the future of Baxter.

“When we developed the plan for Goodrich, we developed it in exact tandem with plans for Baxter.” He explains, “Williams being what it is, a single student center didn’t make sense” since campus life is widely distributed and students “tend not to centralize.” The designers decided to work with this trend and build a student center with two parts.

In the original plan, Goodrich was to serve as the quieter, mellower space for studying, socializing and performances, while Baxter was “supposed to be the loud space” for watching TV, playing pool, and hanging out. Dawson’s would feel at home here.

The possibilities for Baxter’s renovation are sizable. The most optimistic plans include a complete overhaul of the space. They include moving the mailroom to the basement and excavating around the base of the building so that there was direct access from the exterior, and the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, and an atrium to increase natural light and views.

In addition, plans would include a constructing a more current snack bar and several student lounges and gathering spaces with TVs and pool tables and foosball. Murphy presented these plans to the Trustees and the Committee of Priorities and Resources, stressing the campus’ need for a centralized student center.

Unfortunately, there has been little forward motion since the remodeling plans for Baxter were developed in 1994. All energies went towards the opening of Goodrich, and the Baxter half of the plan fell by the wayside. This is creating problematic dynamics for Goodrich and its use.

Explains Murphy, “Goodrich is being asked to do the work of all the spaces we had in mind when we began the planning [of student spaces].”

In the meantime, the stack of architectural plans that display Baxter’s future leans in a dejected pile against a wall of Murphy’s office. He conveys frustration in the current standstill of the Baxter’s plans, and stresses the importance of student involvement in getting Baxter’s renovation back on track. “The plan exists, the plan is here,” said Murphy.

And until the plan is carried through, you’ll be able to catch Dawson’s Creek at Goodrich.

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