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A Reader’s Thoughts About Dormzilla

A reader with a good understanding of both the College and the building trades writes in:

A Few Thoughts About Dormzilla

There is little information about how or why College Park became “the only available site with the necessary capacity” for a 750-bed dormitory complex. The administration’s reasons for the project reference deferred maintenance and equalizing the quality of undergraduate residence halls; however, it is hard to fathom why Dartmouth’s historic inability to maintain its facilities justifies visually scarring the campus and Hanover forever.

It’s not clear who first proposed College Park as a suitable building site for the largest dormitory in Dartmouth’s history. Whoever it was, along with the administrators and architects who are trying to advance the proposal, clearly lacks any appreciation Dartmouth’s history, rural setting, natural spaces, or “sense of place.” All the people involved should be embarrassed by their lack of creative problem-solving skills.

College Park is the highest point on campus and in downtown Hanover. A 60’ tall dorm built straddling the ridge will be visible from all directions 24 hours per day.

College Park Dorms.png.jpg

Granite ledge is visible at the surface throughout the study area. Blasting to remove ledge for building foundations and utilities will cost millions and will add months to what would already be a long, complex construction project. Accessing the site during construction, presumably from Observatory Road, will provide a logistical challenge for trucks and workers. Building materials will need to be stored off site unless the College plans to use some of the adjacent woods for brick and steel deliveries.

The McLaughlin Cluster at the corner of College and Maynard Streets includes 343 total beds, less than half the number of beds in the College Park proposal. Unless Dartmouth is planning a large military-type dorm with dozens of bunk beds in each suite, 750 beds will require more than double the square footage of the McLaughlin Cluster’s built space.

Each bed/student requires a certain amount of square feet for bathrooms, living rooms, corridors, common areas, and building utilities. The Fayerweathers include about 300ft² per bed, the McLaughlin Cluster about 350ft² per bed. Expect 750 beds to consume between 225,000 and 262,500ft². If built four stories high, the building footprint would be 56,250 to 65,625ft², roughly 1.3-1.5 acres. Additional land would be consumed for access roads, sidewalks, ADA ramps, and building utilities.

A dorm 600’x100’ would get the 60,000ft² ground level needed for 240,000ft². The pencil box-shaped Floren Varsity House is roughly 250’x50’. Floren suffers from long, uninterrupted walls with almost no detail except the windows. 250’x50’+ high of running bond brick work (all bricks laid end to end) shows an incredible lack of creativity by Floren’s architect. Should we expect a similar long, detail-free box? Our dull dorm on the hill?

A 250,000ft² dorm, at $400/sf will cost over $100,000,000, but I doubt Dartmouth’s Campus Services Office will be able to manage the project efficiently, and the actual cost will much higher.

The new dorm would tower over the existing Chemistry and Physics science buildings. Students on the west side of the dorm will look across Burke, Fairchild, Steele and Wilder Halls’ assortment of air handlers, exhaust hoods, and other mechanical equipment. Will there be operable windows on the west side? Will students enjoy the noise and odors they’ll invite in through their windows?

Dartmouth College has yet to offer any renderings or elevations of what the dorm might look like, or how it would impact views from around campus. At 60’ tall, the building would be almost as tall as Bartlett Tower. The attached sketches are this alum’s attempt to better understand those impacts. The dorm would be visible from the Green, the BEMA, and Maynard, Wheelock, and North Park Streets.

Dormzilla Footprint.jpg



Addendum: Wow. A new dorm that is as long as the Green. Dormzilla, indeed. Maybe a 15-story concrete high-rise building would be better?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Why doesn’t the College think outside of the box for potential sites for a new dorm?

What about the vacant area between the McLaughlin cluster and the parking lot next to the Medical School administration buildings on Rope Ferry Road? If you relocate portions of that parking lot, there should be plenty of space to build.

How about a more “urban” location? I assume more dormitories could be located on the site where the Lodge currently exists. The College must own other downtown Hanover sites that can be redeveloped for that purpose.

What about the Dewey Lot? I know that parking is at a premium on campus, but wouldn’t that space be better used for residential housing? Also, it would bring the residential population closer to the Class of 78 Life Sciences Center, making that facility seem less remote.

How about an off campus site on Lyme Road beyond the Medical School? Surely the College owns other property along Route 10. Maybe one of those sites could be used for parking and the College could offer a shuttle service back and forth to campus.

Here’s a radical thought. How about moving the Medical School to the DHMC campus and developing that site for dorms? The only reason that the Medical School exists on that site is because it was adjacent to the old Mary Hitchcock hospital. Why not reunite the Medical School and the hospital on one campus?

What the College really needs to do is find some temporary housing so they can level the Choates and the remaining River Cluster dorms to build more suitable housing on those sites. It shouldn’t take a genius to come up with alternative and/or temporary solutions. They may have to consider developing several sites at once to piece this together, but a good architectural and development team should be able to find a creative solution without destroying the beauty and ambience of the center of campus.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

I don’t see what the big deal is about a new megadorm. Let’s sing out New England’s history loud and proud and model it after the defunct Portsmouth Naval Prison, which is the same length (600 ft.) as the projected need. Think about how beautiful and regal this would look surveilling Hanover and half of the East Coast. Oh, but wait, not a fit: The megadorm would be twice as wide as the prison!


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