An overview of the Commons renovation, other facilities improvements, and temporary changes to services.
Beginning in June 2017, the College is undertaking the largest renovation project in its history—with an 18-month comprehensive restoration of the iconic Commons building, which alone exemplifies, through its design, program, legacy, and name, the core ambitions and mission of a Bennington education.
Upon its completion in February 2019, Commons will house ADA-accessible classrooms and other learning spaces, expanded and modernized dining facilities, a new north entrance, a new bakery and cafe, bookstore, post office, and additional social spaces.
To ensure and enhance the quality of the lived experience for Bennington students during this period, the College is undertaking a series of additional renovations that will ultimately provide several new facilities through the revitalization and adaptation of existing buildings.
Schedule of Renovations
The Student Center closed for renovations on April 12, 2017, and will remain closed for the summer. All dining services are being operated out of Commons for the remainder of spring term 2017 (view updated hours and services). UpCaf and DownCaf will remain open during the renovations.
Initial work on the Commons renovation will begin. During the June residency of the MFA in Writing program, Commons will remain open for dining services, while the administrative offices of the program will relocate to the Barn.
All areas of Commons will close for full renovations.
Late August 2017
With the start of the 2017–2018 academic year, all Dining Services will be operated out of the Student Center, which will have been significantly expanded in seating and kitchen capacity. The open mailboxes for on-campus exchange and postal notifications will be relocated in the Barn, with package delivery and central US postal mail service operating out of Buildings and Grounds, adjacent to the Meyer Recreation Barn. Each of the Colonial Houses will be equipped with laundry facilities.
The Student Health Center will open. All student health and psychology services will be relocated to its new building, integrating both student health and psychological services—a major renovation of one of the campus's original structures, located adjacent to the EAC and Word & Image Lab.
Commons will reopen, with full renovations in all spaces.
Commons North Approach (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Commons Terrace Aerial View (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Commons South Aerial View (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Commons Interior – Cafe (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Commons Interior – Lounge (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Commons Interior – Classroom (Christoff:Finio Architecture)
Campus Renovations in Detail
The Commons building alone exemplifies—through its design, program, legacy, and name—the core ambitions and mission of a Bennington education. Its storied history is imprinted with the best of the cultural and intellectual life of the 20th century: it housed the birth of modern dance through the work of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, and Charles Weidman; served as a crucible for pioneering and inspired teaching—lectures by Peter Drucker and W.H. Auden, critiques by Paul Feeley; and served as a crossroads for some of our nation’s most creative thinkers—John Dewey, Zora Neale Hurston, Buckminster Fuller, E.E. Cummings, Ralph Ellison, Jules Olitski, and many, many others.
Today, however, it is in urgent need of renovation and restoration. The primary mechanical systems and core spaces have not been replaced or updated since it was built in 1932. For the past twenty years, the entirety of the third floor of nearly 15,000 square feet has been closed due to fire code and ADA accessibility non-compliance. Reclaiming the currently dormant third floor will result in a net gain of up to 19 additional classrooms and learning spaces, and will provide a home for the humanities, the discipline arguably most central to Bennington’s dynamic and genuinely cross-disciplinary curriculum, and the discipline most in need of a physical structure around which to organize. We believe the building’s transformation will also assure prospective students and their families of our commitment to providing the most technologically state-of-the-art and pedagogically integrated facilities, it will enable Commons to best serve its role as center and heart of campus, and it will galvanize the community in anticipation of a broader campaign for philanthropic investment in Bennington’s future. In the most practical terms, the renovation of Commons will address three core elements: learning, dining, and social life. The guiding mandate is to transform this iconic and beautiful yet increasingly ill-equipped building into a thriving nexus for the Bennington community, with spaces that are permeable and flexible and architecture that brings together the intellectual, physical, and social dimensions for students and broader community alike.
As everyone who knows Bennington would agree, Commons is irreplaceable. Since the earliest days of the College, it has been the center of daily life on campus, a home to the community at large. The goal of the forthcoming renovation is to treat this dearly loved building with the care and respect it deserves, providing it with the capacity to serve as home for many future generations of Bennington students, faculty and staff. But precisely because Commons is so irreplaceable, the campus is going to feel fundamentally different during the renovation, as we adapt to new settings for some of the key aspects of our daily lives. We have done—and will continue—to do our best to make these new settings as comfortable, convenient, beautiful (and fun) as we can, in the spirit of embracing this opportunity to experience Bennington in a new way, together.
During the Commons renovation, all campus dining will be provided through facilities at the Student Center. In order to expand both the cooking capacity and dining seating capacity of the building, the project will entail multiple modifications to the existing building, as well as a collection of temporary facilities exterior to the building. The existing cafe kitchen will be modified and expanded within the current space of the kitchen and grab n go area, alongside an additional serving area occupying the area immediately south of the kitchen within the main space. We will also be building a significant addition off the west side of the main open space, which will provide the majority of dining seating area within a large, open volume that is designed to be converted into an indoor recreation facility after dining returns to the newly renovated Commons building. The addition will include ample daylight as well as glass roll-up doors on the south side, opening onto an outdoor seating area.
Site work for the addition, along with service space to the north and landscape space to the south, began in January 2017 with tree clearing in the area between Third Street and the Ohio Lot. All removed trees were harvested for use either as firewood for campus fireplaces, or to be converted into lumber by a local sawmill. The Student Center itself will be closed after in mid-April 2017 so that work can begin on the kitchen space; this work is scheduled to be complete by late June 2017 (note that grab-and-go service will be provided in the Bookstore beginning at this time). Meanwhile, work on the addition will begin to the west of the Student Center, with the goal of completing and opening the addition prior to the start of Fall term. Mid-summer will also see the arrival of several exterior kitchen modules, which will be sited in the area immediately to the west of the Student Center loading dock, and will be used to provide additional cooking and dishwashing capacity. By the start of Fall Term 2017, this area will be transformed into a fully functional dining facility that should serve the community well for the duration of the Commons renovation.
Student Health Center
In mid-December 2016, we began the work of renovating one of the original farm structures on the Bennington Campus—a building which has served multiple functions throughout the succeeding years, including as offices and faculty apartments. Now, through a comprehensive addition and adaptive renovation, we are breathing new life into this idiosyncratic and special, but often overlooked building so that it may become the new home for Bennington’s Health and Psych Services. The building, which preserves the vernacular character of the original building while incorporating modern, energy-efficient systems, will include offices and support facilities for both programs, along with shared reception and waiting spaces. The work is scheduled to be complete by August 2017.
Landscaping around the Student Center
In conjunction with the expansion of the Student Center, landscaping work and removal of trees has taken place in the area between Ohio Lot and the Student Center.
The stand of trees in this location was originally planted as part of a "plantation-style" tree planting in the 1940s and '50s (exact dates not known). They are not original to the site. In assessing the trees last year prior to the current project, many were found to be in decline, due in part to drainage issues in this area which caused the area to be unfavorably wet.
The removal of trees was necessary for the site work associated with the western addition to the Student Center, as well as to the construction of a new bio-retention stormwater pond to manage the storm drainage in this area of campus.
The initial intent of the project was to remove only the extent of trees required for the sitework associated with this project, and to retain all other existing trees. These trees were removed in February of this year. Unfortunately, upon the removal of the existing trees, we found that (because of the way they had been planted and grown originally), the remaining trees were structurally weak, and subject to damage in wind/storm events. In one recent storm event with high gusting winds, six trees in this one stand were either uprooted or had broken off above the base. At that point, we became concerned about safety issues both in the new temporary dining facility and in the adjacent parking lot, and were forced to make a decision regarding the removal of the remaining trees; we opted to remove them with a view towards developing a more forward-looking landscape design for this area.
There is still a lot of sitework remaining to be done in this area. Our intent is to re-grade, re-plant, and develop this area into an accessible and functional piece of the campus landscape. New grading will incorporate a gently rolling topography planted as meadow, along with new tree and shrub plantings. We are setting aside a large portion of this area for use as the site of the new College tree nursery to support a campus-wide tree planting campaign over the next several years. This fall (when the weather cools off), we will be planting a wide variety of tree species in this area in the form of small stock, which will be allowed to grow up to appropriate size for re-planting in designated areas around the campus.
Campus Road Changes
In preparation for work to the Student Center, the northern portion of the north-south road which runs between the Student Center and the Ohio Lot, connecting to the Barnes Houses, will be closed for construction work. The east-west road immediately to the north of the Student Center—which connects to Ohio Lot, Stickney Observatory, and the tennis courts beyond—will remain open and passable. Vehicular access to the Barnes houses will be routed through the Ohio lot, connecting to the access road on the south side of the Student Center. These changes will be in place for the duration of Summer 2017.
Christoff:Finio Architecture is the architectural firm contracted to oversee the design and implementation of the full Commons renovation.
Campus Renovations on Tumblr
Follow the renovations on this Tumblr site. Dane Whitman, the College's Kilpatrick Fellow for Buildings and Grounds, is running the blog with photos and updates on the renovations.