Board of Trustees votes to continue construction planning process

Andy Monserud

The Board of Trustees approved further exploration of the possibility of constructing new on-campus housing and a new dining hall at their fall meeting last Friday. Further development of the plans, first announced in September and displayed on campus soon afterwards, will continue alongside early probing for financial support of the planned construction in preparation for the Trustees’ next meeting in February.

Asked about the reasoning behind the decision, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Brad McMurchie expressed confidence in the project, but noted that it should also be weighed against other concerns.

“I think the governing boards are generally quite convinced that Whitman needs to make additional investments in places like Residence Life,” McMurchie said.  “The question is what should those investments be and how do we balance our desire for those investments with other priorities we have…The logic behind our desire to make those investments is our sense that the Residential Life facilities can really inform and influence the development of the Whitman community and how that community plays into our overall goals for student learning.”

While the construction is not certain to be approved, the decision is encouraging for those involved in planning the project. Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland, who chaired the design committee for the developments, is particularly optimistic.

“We talked to [the Board] about our process, and the architects made the presentations,” Cleveland said. “I’d say that overall they’re generally pleased. They’re anxious to see how it really begins to take shape, and I’m sure there’ll be some things that will be altered a little bit once we get into the specifics. We really just had concepts.”

The proposed new buildings are currently slated for construction on lots south of Anderson Hall, and on Boyer Avenue in the current location of Marcus House. Proposed housing developments include a residence hall for sophomores and an off-campus, Whitman-owned apartment-style complex aimed at juniors and seniors.

The trustees’ decision means that work will soon begin on seeking out potential sources of funding for the new buildings, which are expected to cost around 50 million dollars. The development office has scoped out about 20 potential major donors for the project.  With the aid of President Kathy Murray, the office plans to contact those donors to gauge their interest in the coming months.

“What the Board decided, from a functional or technical standpoint, is that we want to continue the design process,” McMurchie said, “and more than anything we need to figure out whether or not we have friends and supporters of the college who are willing to make financial commitments to this project in the form of gifts. That’s all we’ve decided: to continue to design and to see if we can raise [enough] money to make this possible.”

Treasurer Peter Harvey, who was also involved in the design committee, notes that the school will also have to consider other options for covering the costs of the project. Among these possibilities would be taking on debt to cover the construction, or staggering it over a period of several years to spread out the costs.  No matter what, the actual beginning of construction would happen several months from now at least, by his estimate.

“Either at the February [meeting] or at the May meeting, we’ll have a better sense of the timeline.  The earliest possible [time] we could finish with the design is…probably in April,” Harvey said. “If the funding were there we could potentially break ground this summer [at] the earliest…It takes 16-18 months to build that kind of building, so it would take a while before we actually opened them.”