President's Page

Restorations—Large, Small … and Important

By Catharine Hill, President
Catharine Hill, President
Catharine Hill, President

Few aspects of Vassar stir more memories for alumnae and alumni than our beautiful campus. As the physical expression of the values that Vassar embraces, and as our home, the buildings and grounds of the campus need not only to be carefully maintained, but also constantly renewed, most often through the process of renovation. Occasionally the times call for new construction, as with the bridge building that will be the highlight of the Integrated Science Center. That project was one of the top priorities of the recently completed, highly successful Vassar 150: World Changing campaign. With that once seemingly distant dream now in the process of becoming a reality, those of us on the campus—residents, workers, and visitors alike—can hardly miss the construction that is busily proceeding between the Chapel and Skinner Hall. Many mornings I don’t need my alarm clock in the President’s House!

But the sheer scope of the Science Center has overshadowed many other important projects aimed at improving campus facilities. One such project that also came about thanks to campaign funding is the renovation of Swift Hall, which has been the home of Vassar’s History Department since the early 1940s. You can view the results of that renovation—and read what faculty and students have to say about it—on page 34 of this magazine.

Other improvements are less dramatic than a large new building or the complete renovation of a beloved older one, but they have a considerable impact on campus life. Students were very pleased upon their return this fall to find that the bridge from the Terrace Apartments (and by extension, the Athletics Center) across the Casperkill Creek had finally been replaced with a handsome new structure after months of their being forced to take the long way around—no minor thing to a student rushing to make it to class on a freezing wintry morning. And those cold mornings in the dorms and the classrooms are made a bit easier by the heat provided by our campus’s natural gas distribution system; we have now completed the second of three phases on a project to replace those gas lines, ensuring greater energy efficiency for Vassar while saving the college money.

What could be less exciting than an underground gas line? Try bathrooms—unless, of course, they’re the ones you’re using day after day. Every year after Reunion, we hear the same refrain from alumnae and alumni who have stayed in our residence halls: Being back on campus was great, but can’t you do something about the bathrooms?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we have been, steadily and surely. Within the past year alone, the hardworking staff of the college’s Buildings and Grounds Department has overseen the replacement of piping for the too-often-dysfunctional shower drains in Noyes House, and demolition of the old and construction of the new bathrooms in the south wing of Strong House (the bathrooms on the north wing will follow next summer).

As with Swift, other renovations of campus buildings have been especially sensitive to the college’s architectural heritage. The Students’ Building is celebrating its centennial this year, and as a birthday present it has a new roof, with a cupola and spire restored to their original condition (yes, that phrase “hundred-year roof” has real meaning!). Back at Noyes, the exposed concrete at the entrances and the end-of-corridor balconies on each floor have been restored to be consistent with the original design by one of the 20th century’s most famous architects, Eero Saarinen.

Still more renovations directly augment the already creative teaching methods of Vassar’s faculty. At Skinner Hall, yet another gift from the campaign is a new “listening classroom” that allows music faculty and students to study in groups and individually on the latest in audiovisual equipment in a beautiful new space. And the renovation and expansion of the special collections area of our libraries are nearly complete.

For all their variety, the above projects do not constitute a complete list of the campus improvements we’ve begun or have completed in the past year. As soon as one is finished, there is always something else that needs to be done. But for all of us who know what an integral part the campus plays in the Vassar experience, that’s no problem. It is, after all, a labor of love.

Catharine Hill, President