New student center $6-7 million overbudget

The College’s initial vision of a new student center has gone back to the drawing board after a cost estimate found it to be well over-budget. Two cost analyses of detailed schematic drawings conducted by Polshek Partners, the architecture firm in charge of the Baxter redesign, and an independent organization hired by the College found the building to be between $6 million and $7 million over its $36 million budget, Dean Roseman said.

Polshek is essentially “starting over” on the building with the exception of the basement, according to Roseman, who stressed that this development is not unexpected and said she believes rethinking the building will lead to a better final product.

“It’s like building a home,” Roseman said. “First the architect designs a dream kitchen and then you look at what you can and cannot afford to build.” Roseman praised Polshek for doing more precise cost estimates than most firms, allowing the College to address budget concerns before the construction phase was started.

“We knew the cost analysis would show we are over budget, so that wasn’t surprising. You would be hard pressed to find a project that wasn’t at this stage,” she said. “Usually we find ourselves over budget at the schematic and the construction documents. Here, we’ve compressed it into the beginning because of Polshek’s approach and we all think it a very wise strategy.”

The analysis of cost showed much of the building’s budget was going towards Dining Services Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, has worked with Polshek and the College’s dining consultant to reduce the financial and spatial cost of Dining Services in the new building.

To get back under budget, the College has reduced the building by one story – saving over 16,000 square feet from a building that was previously over 70,000 square feet. Roseman said the student organizations that were previously on the third floor will now be moved to the second floor and Dining Services will likely be consolidated on the first.

According to Volpi, the College is looking at turning dining in Baxter into a “marketplace food concept” that would seat up to 250 in a more “typical student center operation where you have a declining balance on your card.” This would be a substantial difference from the current Baxter “all you can eat” dining hall.

Volpi envisions an open-serving area with chefs preparing food before students’ eyes. Food options could include a pasta station, grill, deli, soup and salad station, bakery and international station where students could buy as much as they wanted. The first floor dining options would be complemented by the basement pub where there will likely be a brick oven to cook pizza. The pub would seat 70 people.

The different dining options would evolve throughout the day, and Roseman said consolidating the dining operation would not come at the expense of the Snack Bar. “I’ve told Polshek that in designing this new dining facility there has to be a program element that we will all recognize as being the Snack Bar,” Roseman said. “That also makes sense functionally as there will be a part that is open all the time and function like the Snack Bar.”

Design on the building has been frozen since January as Polshek generated a detailed schematic based upon the basic concepts the firm had developed with the College. During this time, input from the community about the concept was also solicited.

Many in the community raised concerns about the exterior of the building and Polshek said it would revisit the façade. The cost estimate has now forced a reexamination of the interior programming of the building, which will be completed before the architects come back to do a more rigorous development of the façade.

Though Polshek is “starting over” in the sense that the new plans will be substantially different from those presented earlier in the year, Roseman said that much of the work that was done over the course of the year is still relevant.

She said much of the work earlier in the year on mechanicals and engineering remains relevant and serves the College regardless of what the building ends up looking like. “Also, all of the program analysis we did determining how much square footage people needed, that is lots of work, too, and still relevant,” Roseman said.

Despite her enthusiasm for the first schematic, Roseman said she thinks in the end this setback will lead to a better building. “It’s not uncommon when you are pressed that you end up designing a better building because you have to think harder about it,” she said. Reducing the size of the building will lead to a space that is more intimate and active because there is no dead space, she added.

Despite the necessity of coming up with a new building design, Roseman said Polshek has said they can still begin construction after commencement in 2004. She said there will be drawings to show the community before school ends this year and she wants to see if the community is comfortable with a “quite differently functioning building.”

In related news, the College announced last week a $3.125 million gift from a donor. Of that figure, $2.875 million will go to the endowment with no restriction on its use. The donor has asked that the dining area in the new student center be named the “Class of 1968 Dining Hall.”