Open Forum on New and Short-Term Housing Option

Bennington College (Un)Commons Proposal (Source: http://christofffinio.com/?page_id=120 )

Bennington College (Un)Commons Proposal

(Source: http://christofffinio.com/?page_id=120 )

 

Aria Killough-Miller ‘17

Last Thursday, students filled the CAPA Symposium with questions about the new short-term housing option starting Fall 2017, which was introduced during last week’s Coffee Hour.

Assistant Dean of Students Natalie Basil, Associate Vice-President for Facilities Management and Planning Andy Schlatter, and President Mariko Silver, assisted by Dean of Students Xenia Markowitt, ran two sessions on the afternoon of October 27th to give more details on the plan, and take questions and feedback from students. The BFP attended the second meeting, in which about 10 students were present.

According to Schlatter, the college is negotiating a five-year lease on an apartment complex under renovation at 26 Scarey Lane, within walking distance from campus, which could accommodate up to 90 students. At the end of five years, the college would have the option to purchase the land.

“The thought of sixty to seventy [students] in one building is new to me,” said Cleo Zars ’17. She called this comment an observation rather than a criticism. Questions from students included how the building’s 3,000-square-foot (the size of the Student Center’s big room) community space might be used, the impact of so many people living off-campus, particularly upperclassmen, might have on the rest of the community, and what shape the community and culture of the apartment complex might take. Presenters said that such questions were up for discussion, and they described the five-year lease as an opportunity to experiment with a housing model new to Bennington. Markowitt assumed that some elements of quiet housing, a phrase she said was open to interpretation, would likely be involved. She also advocated for the discussion of the college’s culture outside campus parties.  

Presenters affirmed that, despite being off-campus, the property would be college-owned, meaning financial aid would not be affected. Furthermore, president Silver stated that a pedestrian path would make walking between the complex and campus easy. Schlatter reported that initial discussion with neighboring townspeople had been a “pretty positive conversation.” He noted that the college would be one singular entity to address issues to rather than having the supervision of different tenants. Presenters seemed to agree that Campus Safety could play a role in the complex.

“Housing is a consequence of growth, not the other way around,” explained Silver. A chart of enrollment projections in her section of the Power Point indicated a gradual increase to about 135 more students by 2021. While Bennington should remain “community-sized,” she argued, certain characteristics of the college demanded parallel increase in the number of student and faculty, which can be achieved by expanding the faculty’s areas of work and having a sufficient number of students with similar interests to form groups and group projects.

Markowitt said that the Dean X-Change advisory group, which meets Fridays 2-3 PM in Cricket Hill Barn, would lead discussion related to housing. Schlatter reported that the school would offer tours of the property to students, yet at the moment they were discouraged from visiting the site since it was still under construction and the neighbors did not want college students to drop by “willy-nilly.” Silver explained that groups in interconnected structures would give both faculty and staff opportunities to engage in the process.  

Maisy Capps, a fifth-term junior and house chair, who has been involved in conversations about this development, thought that the meeting was important for offering transparency. While she acknowledged that students might complain about the departure from the college’s existing housing model, she argued that the school was changing, and having the complex as an option would be important for responding to the varying needs of students.