Alumni House backyard expanded: New setup will accommodate larger events

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Ground work is underway in the Alumni House backyard. Construction crews are in the process of laying sod and moving the fence to expand the space available to the Alumni House for events. The first events in the expanded space will be held next spring. Photo by Naomi Guttman ’16.

Ground work is underway in the Alumni House backyard. Construction crews are in the process of laying sod and moving the fence to expand the space available to the Alumni House for events. The first events in the expanded space will be held next spring. Photo by Naomi Guttman ’16.
Ground work is underway in the Alumni House backyard. Construction crews are in the process of laying sod and moving the fence to expand the space available to the Alumni House for events. The first events in the expanded space will be held next spring. Photo by Naomi Guttman ’16.

Trees have been razed, sod placed, and a fence moved as part of a construction project to expand the Alumni House’s backyard and increase the available space for outdoor events hosted at the house.

An anonymous donor funded the cost of the project, which Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton estimated at $30,000.

According to Wheaton, who coordinated the construction project, it was necessary to expand the Alumni House backyard to allow for more flexibility in hosting events outside.

Previously, the backyard extended back to a white fence south of the house. However, a large open space lay just beyond that fence, which was not being utilized in any capacity.

“We thought it would be best to move the fence all the way out and create a large backyard space,” Wheaton said.

The fence was moved south to enclose that entire open space, which now extends south to the sidewalk leading to George Draper Dayton Hall and west to the GDD entrance courtyard.

Before the expansion, the backyard could hold roughly 60 people, limiting its capability for hosting events, according to Wheaton. The expanded space will be “fairly dramatically bigger,” Wheaton said, and Alumni House Manager Mary Kay Briggs estimated the new capacity could be well upwards of 100.

The new space was also designed with different tent configurations in mind. Previous events that were held in the backyard were very limited in size. The largest tent that could be erected would have been 20’ x 30’.

“It was a little tight; that tent really filled up the whole yard,” Briggs said. “Going far into the backyard, we can have a bigger tent back there.

In addition to expanding the backyard, the project also included funding for improvements to the grounds. The newly enclosed part of the backyard received a sprinkler system, new sod, shrubbery, and the capability to run power outside through the backyard.

In the past, any service that needed electricity, such as lights for a tent, music, or heating plates for caterers, required extension cords to be run from the Alumni House. That will no longer be an issue, as the power lines near GDD were relocated and reconfigured to allow power to be run directly from outside.

Five trees had to be torn down to allow for the backyard’s expansion: three pine trees, an ash tree, and a smaller apple tree, according to Wheaton. However, there are still trees alongside the sidewalk to GDD and close to the Alumni House itself, so the area is still surrounded by tree cover.

In addition, the portion of the fence bordering Macalester Street was surrounded by hedges. Those hedges have been removed, and new hedges have been installed along the entire length of the new fence, so the hedging grows evenly.

Construction crews have been placing new sod on the backyard, which is expected to be completed by the end of this week. The sod will establish itself over the winter, and the backyard will begin to be used by events beginning next spring, around graduation. The construction schedule was planned so that it would begin after the last outdoor event of this year was completed, and be finished in time for outdoor events next year.

“We wanted it to be ready when we got to graduation and reunion and other warm-weather events,” Wheaton said. “If we had done the work in the spring, we would have to have kept people off the grass until it was all ready. So this was something we wanted to have done now.”

At least one wedding has already been booked in the new space, according to Briggs, and many others are expected to reserve the space for graduation parties and other similar events.

Wheaton expects that with these renovations, the Alumni House will begin to attract events that it wasn’t able to in the past because of the small size of the backyard. Use of the space is not limited to events associated with Macalester, and use of the space in that regard is expected to grow.

“It is a space that we make available to the wider community, and now we think this might make it more attractive to some folks that originally looked at it and just felt it was too small,” Wheaton said.

“We’re grateful for the gift to the college,” Wheaton said. “In some sense, it kind of completes the work that had been done on the Alumni House a couple years ago.”

Two years ago, the interior of the Alumni House received extensive renovations and structural improvements. That project was also funded by anonymous donors.