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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

New structures, same feel

By Matt Day

When the finishing touches are put on the renovation of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center in the early 2010s, Macalester will have put the cap on an unprecedented 20 years of campus renewal.The current site of Winton Health Services will be occupied by a newly constructed Institute for Global Citizenship building. The Macalester Athletic and Recreation Center will be a fixture in the heart of an academic quad filled with state-of-the-art science and arts facilities.

But questions about the future of campus remain. Administrators are already considering construction projects to be completed during and on the heels of the overhaul of Janet Wallace.

Macalester’s Vice President of Administration and Finance David Wheaton said the college is by and large sticking to a Master Plan Report released in 2005.

Large building projects aside, the plan outlines a series of aesthetic improvements to the college, including a “campus gateway” that would create a focal point for the college at an entry and drop off circle located at the end of Macalester Street near the fine arts building.

Other ideas in the master plan are a new residence hall at the current location of the Patagonia parking lot and a parking structure at the site of the current fine arts parking lot.

Despite these ambitious projects, High Winds Funds director Tom Welna said the borders of the college aren’t about to start expanding.

“Mac isn’t really in need of physical expansion,” Welna said. “Our enrollment has fluctuated between 1,600 and 1,800 students for 35 years. It doesn’t really change. There’s no pressure.”

The High Winds Fund, an independent fund affiliated with the college, maintains a number of residential and investment properties around the college with the goal of keeping the neighborhood attractive and safe.

Wheaton stressed that the Master Plan is by no means set in stone.

“We’re still using it,” Wheaton said. “We use it to guide what we’re thinking about. But no master plan gets done the way it was intended. They help contextualize the decisions you make over a long period.”

Sylvester Gaskin, Assistant Director of Campus Programs for Multicultural Life, was also keen to point out the flexible nature of the plan.

“The thing with master plans is there’s this big vision, but it ultimately comes down to looking in your wallet and seeing what there’s money for,” Gaskin said.

At least since the renovation of Olin Rice in 1997, Macalester’s wallet has been full.

Since the completion of the Olin Rice expansion, Macalester has seen several major building projects, including the construction of the George Draper Dayton Residence Hall, Campus Center, and the ongoing Macalester Athletic and Recreation Center. Add to that the renovations of Kagin Commons, Turck and Wallace Halls, and the athletic fields, and you have the most expansive series of construction projects since the 1960s.

“It strikes me that this is a more active period than we’ve had in a while,” Wheaton said.

According to Wheaton, the college’s physical expansion usually mirrors its financial situation.

“Mac’s construction has come in spurts,” he said. “Mac [also] has a finance history that goes in spurts.”

“We were in trouble 30 years ago, then Reader’s Digest went public,” Wheaton said.

When most of the Reader’s Digest funds dried up in the mid1990s, the college had to turn to other sources of income, High Winds Fund Director Tom Welna said.

“It’s been a good market,” he said. “In ’02 we appointed one person at Mac to oversee our investments. It was a good strategy that maximized the market.”

That strategy is paying off, and the extra funds are allowing administrators and staff members to discuss extra physical improvements not mentioned in the latest Master Plan.

Without a traditional college bookstore since the close of the Ruminator in 2004, administrators are looking into options that would bring one to campus. Welna said several locations for a new bookstore are now under consideration.

Macalester’s current textbook store operates during limited hours on the second floor of the Lampert Building.

One potential site is the space currently occupied by the college-owned cottages on Macalester Street. Prime candidates for demolition for more than a decade, the cottages would, under the Master Plan, be leveled and replaced with open grassy park space. Now it’s likely that land will be used for other purposes.

“The Cottages have been on the docket forever,” Welna said. “They’re a very possible site [for the bookstore].”

According to Welna, Director of Facilities Management Mark Dickinson is soliciting bids from contractors on a plan that would uproot the Winton Health Services building and move it to the site of the cottages to house the bookstore.

No timeline for a decision about the cottages has been set, but one would have to be made soon if it involved moving Winton. Macalester will break ground on the Institute for Global Citizenship building at Winton’s site following graduation in May 2008.

The college has also explored the option of expanding the Highlander Store in the basement of the Campus Center or locating the store on the first floor of the Lampert building on Snelling Avenue.

“There was [also] an idea floated to put it in the library,” Welna said. “[The bookstore] is a priority.”

Librarian Jean Beccone said the library’s future as a potential home for the bookstore is far from the only change in the works for the library. Beccone said the 2007-2008 academic year was designated a planning year for the library staff, with many potential changes outlined in a report sent this fall to the provost.

“We’re really in the preliminary stages,” she said. “We don’t really have a timeline. We’re looking 10 years into the future.”

Beccone, a member of the library’s Space Planning Group, said library staff members are looking at making an entrance on the south side of the library building facing the MARC. With the completion of the MARC, the new landscaping on Shaw Field, and the renovation of Janet Wallace, Beccone said the group is keen on involving the library in this rejuvenated area of campus.

“Because of the MARC and fine arts complex, we’re trying to figure out how we can connect better with those buildings,” Beccone said.

“We’re not talking about changing the footprint of the building at all. But we do want to make the library a welcoming space,” Beconne said.

A redesign such as that under consideration at the library is more typical of Macalester than the large construction projects that have characterized the 2000s. Despite the bevy of construction projects and a large first-year class that has brought the college’s enrollment to more than 1,900 students, Welna and Wheaton agreed that there is no push to expand beyond Mac’s current geographic boundaries.

According to Welna, the college prioritizes efficient use of space instead of physical expansion.

“We’re actually expanding programmatically but not physically,” Welna said. “We’re reorganizing, moving things around, but I don’t see any need to do any physical expansion.”

Macalester operates under a conditional use permit from the city of St. Paul. The permit encourages conservative expansion with a long bureaucratic process required for an expansion of the college’s current borders.

“We are a compact campus,” Welna said. “Unlike Carleton, Grinnell, St. Olaf, which are bordered on at least one side by cornfields, we are an urban campus. We have a finite space.”

That finite space has led to challenges for student groups, said Gaskin, who works with student organizations from his office in the second floor of the Campus Center.

“There always is a constant struggle about space with student orgs,” Gaskin said. “With the MARC coming online, it will help. The old field house had space for student orgs and from my understan
ding the more athletic orgs will wind up in the MARC.”

Gaskin said student organizations have made the best of a wide variety of limited spaces, including the student-dedicated offices on the second level of the Campus Center, themselves a product of the current boom in construction.

Gaskin called on student groups to continue effectively using existing spaces that are available.

“I doubt we’ll build a big shed [for student orgs],” Gaskin said. “We have to use what’s there and use it well.”

Working with the current facilities is the rule, not the exception at Macalester. Large projects like MARC are rare. Ground won’t be broken on the Institute for Global Citizenship building until after classes end in the spring of 2008 and the first stages of the Janet Wallace project are years away.

Building changes come slowly on the small, boxed-in campus that is Macalester, Wheaton said.

“I’ve been here for five years,” he said, “and some of the old timers still refer to the building to the left of Old Main as the ‘new library,’ even though it’s a 20 year-old library.”

Welna, a 1986 graduate of Macalester who returned to work for his alma mater, said that although construction can seem to drastically alter the college, the heart of campus has remained largely unchanged over time.

“The core always stays the same: Weyerhaeuser, the Chapel, Carnegie, Old Main,” Welna said.

“When I came back after 18 years, the place looked very good. Things were different, but it felt the same.

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