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Skidmore College
Strategic Planning

Master planners envision campus expansion

Firm intentions and best guesses provide a general game plan to keep Skidmore's mission fitting into its campus in coming decades.

by Dan Forbush

Colleges do master plans for lots of reasons. A strategic tool for guiding campus development in the near and distant future, they help ensure that campus changes always contribute to the fulfillment of the educational mission. And as a practical matter, says Michael West, vice president for finance and administration, "they help us avoid putting buildings in the wrong place." Indeed, it's because two architects devoted two years to developing The 2007 Campus Plan: A Vision for the Future that Skidmore's Zankel Music Center will not be sited exactly as originally planned. To allow a generous opening to the new "arts quad" that it will form with the Filene Music Building and Bernhard Theater, the Zankel is being rotated 15 degrees and shifted 50 feet to the south.

Prepared by noted campus architect Lo-Yi Chan together with Skidmore's facilities planner Fred DiMauro, the plan was approved by the trustees last May as a "framework" for the college's development over the next several decades. It makes compelling reading for anyone with an interest in the college's past or future, opening with Judge Henry Walton's creation of his Woodlawn estate in the early 1800s and ending with the possible completion by 2050 of a new academic quad, being called "Crescent Green," north of Palamountain and North halls.

The original design for the Jonsson Campus of the college was completed 45 years ago and updated just twice—in 1972 for the introduction of coeducation and in 1989 to identify building sites and improve traffic patterns, open space, landscaping and lighting. The trustees decided in 2004 to update the plan to address a host of issues raised by the college's decision to use the area to the north and west of Scribner Village not for sports and recreation fields as called for by the 1989 master plan, but to instead build the Northwoods Village apartments there.

While Chan's and DiMauro's vision of Skidmore in the year 2050 raises intriguing possibilities, it's their picture of the campus through 2015 that's of most pressing interest today. Upon completion of the Zankel Music Center, the plan assumes the college's next priorities will be:

  • replacing Scribner Village with new apartment-style buildings—probably two, with about 200 beds each;
  • relocating the admissions office from its current North Broadway home to the main campus; and
  • construction of a new building in a corridor of the North Woods, to relocate service functions like receiving, maintenance, and facilities management—and subsequent expansion of academic programs in space freed up in the heart of campus.

When those projects are finished—probably around 2015—the plan projects a new construction phase focused on adding to Dana Science Center and Saisselin Art Center.

The plan considers not only the so-called "pedestrian campus"—the circle that can be reached within a five-minute walk from Palamountain Hall—but also the future of the 300-acre North Woods. In light of increasing and often competing pressures on the woods—educational and research uses, preservation, recreation and campus expansion—stewardship and land-use issues have come under renewed debate. Through consultation with all who have an interest in the North Woods, a consensus is forming that would open a portion of the land for construction of a new academic quad, which planners Chan and DiMauro call "Crescent Green." The remaining woodlands would be set aside in educational, recreation, and preservation zones.

"Creatively shaping open space is the key to the growth of the Skidmore campus," says VP West. "Perhaps the campus plan's most important finding is that, for at least the next 40 years, the college can continue to expand in a manner that enhances the quality of the campus and preserves the green spaces that all of us cherish."

Originally published in Scope Magazine, Fall 2007