Colby’s master plan: investigating the campus’ long term design

Colby is in the news. Big news, too; the renaming of President Greene’s house to honor a former slave and custodian at Colby named Samuel Osborne recently made the front page of the Boston Globe. The Dare Northward campaign’s goal of $750 million is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by any liberal arts college, and has been widely reported on in both local, state and national outlets.

Colby students are confronting change in their lives on campus as well; the new ban on off-campus living, the downtown dorm, and even the development of the new Athletic Center will affect current students.

As fundraising continues and the College aims to expand and enrich its programs, questions arise about the changes in everyday life for students at Colby. What will the College look like in five years? Ten?

Although we can hardly answer those questions with certainty, Colby has laid out plans, big and small, that can give us some idea of what campus will look like in the near and far future.

The Assistant Vice President for facilitiesa nd campus planning, Mina Amundsen, is quick to point out the big picture. “These are big ideas for future development,” she said “The big theme is campus community, and we look at specific sites and think about that theme. There is a simplicity and strength to the buildings of Miller Lawn. We want to honor that while we consider the future.”

“Colby’s Georgian architecture, with the bricks and small windows, is beautiful, but it’s hard to see what’s happening inside—where you want to be drawn to, what can inform how people interact,” Brian Clark said. Much of the architectural plan as Colby moves forward will involve integrating this concern of opening up the community and displaying the vibrant opportunities Colby students have to engage on campus.

“More spaces are likely to look to DavisConnects, or the Art Museum,” Clark added.

When considering adding new buildings, the Planning Department has plenty of space to work with. “Half is developed, we have 700 acres,” Clark said. “We need to manage the growth of built environment versus landscape, but the land by Runnals hill does allow room for future development.”

Although there is open land on that side of campus, one goal is to create a more compact and interactive campus, better connecting hubs of student activity. Some plans include enhancing Miller Street with other opportunities for student activity, and creating more attractive and accessible pathways to better connect the “active triangle” of student events on campus, from Cotter Union to The Street to the Museum. The new Arts and Innovation Center, slated for the Mary Low parking lot, will see makerspace labs and activities, new performance spaces, and other accessible student experiences.

Although plans are conceptual, grand, and hardly set in stone, no detail is too small to consider. “When walking on campus at night, there are very dark spots and very light spots,” says Amundsen, who has spent time planning a lighting makeover for Mayflower Hill. Lights on campus will be redone over time. The plans must work within dark-sky guidelines to allow continued use of the observatory and facilitate the fantastic view of the stars seen when a student steps out of Miller at night.

The new Athletic Center is one of the most noticeable and anticipated additions to campus. With current first years scheduled  to have access to the facilities by their senior year, many are already looking forward to new improvements, like double the floorspace in the weight room and brand-new arenas for just about every sport. “The new facilities are definitely necessary, considering how many athletes there are on campus it is almost overdue,” first-year squash player Sydney Ku ’21 commented.

The new center will be 350,000 square feet and include a new aquatic center, indoor competition center, new ice arena and squash center. The bottom floor will be for competition and include locker rooms and entrances for varsity teams. The second floor will include an entrance for visitors and all health and wellness facilities, with triple the floor space of the current AC. A large outdoor courtyard in the center of the building will host various student activities.

In keeping with the theme of community and openness, the venue will be largely transparent in design; passersby will be able to see the vibrancy of activity going on inside.

With hesitant (but fairly undeniable) plans to slightly increase the size of the student body over the next several years, some thought has been put into adding more dorm space and improving current dorms. There is a 20-year cycle of dorm renovations, and Colby has just closed out the most recent cycle with renovations to Bobs. This year will see the start of a new cycle that will include small processes of “refreshing,” Amundsen said. “Nothing is certain right now,” added Clark, “but placement of new halls is being considered in anticipation of need.”

One of the most tangible and immediate outcomes of the Dare Northward campaign has been the freedom to create such striking plans. It is this campaign that will fund many of Colby’s plans for the near future, including work in Waterville and the new AC. “The campaign is providing resources and has absolutely been impacting the future,” Dan Lugo, Vice President for College Advancement and one of the administrators responsible for the campaign, said.

Although it may seem to affect students in smaller ways, efforts in Waterville will gradually change student life over time. “We are becoming the catalyst for investment in Waterville,” Lugo added. Even the development of the AC will bring Colby and Waterville closer together; its design will allow Colby to host high school championship events, and it will be accessible to the public. Because of unique facilities, including the Olympic-sized pool (slated to be the only one in Maine), the AC will become an attraction for athletes throughout the state. The Art Museum will be reaching into the Waterville community as well—one of the museum’s galleries is scheduled to open on Main Street.

“Mayflower Hill and Waterville are growing mutually as an investment,” Clark commented. “The investment on the hill serves to connect, and vice versa.”

With a significant percentage of students living off Mayflower Hill in the new dorm, and as the allure of downtown grows, students can expect a change in a particularly underserved area: transportation. “It’s something we call transportation demand management,” Clark said, “and that demand will change on and off campus.”

Students can expect an efficient shuttle system from Colby to downtown (including the apartment complex) completing its route every 15 minutes or 30 minutes, data has only just been collected on the speed of the shuttle’s route, and the demand for its services; pickup and drop-off times will be adjusted based on student and faculty need. Current students have even proposed the idea of GPS tracking transportation, so students will always know how far away their ride is.

However, students with their own vehicles will be kept to the perimeters of campus. Planning is looking to more heavily restrict vehicle access to Cotter, Bixler and Runnals Drives in order to contribute to a more walkable campus culture. Students are likely to see even less driving on campus, particularly to the AC. “Ways to cross campus and cross the street to the AC will be enhanced for safety and safe crossing,” Clark said.

With big changes slated for Colby’s campus in the coming decade, it is easy to think that new development will not affect life at Colby until long after current students have graduated. But for students with a year left—watch out for small changes on campus and off.