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Major Renovations Planned for Four Academic Buildings

Haverford is planning major changes and renovations to four different academic buildings in the next five years: Magill Library, Ryan Gym, Roberts Hall, and the Sharpless wing of the KINSC.

The projects are expected to be started in the next five years. Part of that depends on the amount of money that can be raised in Haverford’s major capital campaign, which will start in Fall 2014. Although several donors have been found for VCAM, with donations now totaling $7.5 million of the necessary $12 million, Haverford is still looking to fundraise a substantial portion of the funds needed for the new buildings through the campaign.

Magill Library

Magill Library is the largest project, and after several years of planning, is about to head into the design phase. Haverford is currently looking to hire an architect to create the design plan. Construction will likely begin in the next 3-5 years.

Starting in 2011, the library began to assess how to make better use of the space. Though at first library staff planned for smaller renovations, President Weiss encouraged them to think big — partially because the building poses a number of design challenges that are difficult to overcome without an overhaul.

The building is a composite of five different buildings, built throughout the 1900’s. According to head librarian Terry Snyder, Magill has sixteen different roofs. The stacks, which were built in the 1960’s, feature bookshelves in the middle of all rooms, which serve as the structural supports of the building.

“It really limits what you can do to renovate those spaces,” said Don Campbell, Director of Facilities.

Magill has also been criticized for its aesthetic issues, and its design limits functionality for students, staff, and faculty.

“We have this beautiful, crazy quilt,” Snyder said, describing Magill. “It has stopped working for us, and stopped working for the students.”

The library created a planning committee to vision a new space at the beginning of this academic year, composed of over a dozen students, faculty, staff, architects, and other professionals. In five workshops over the course of this academic year, the group came up with key goals and a basic plan for the new building, which will cost around $35 million.

“We see the library as the intellectual heart of the campus,” Snyder said. “The idea is to create a culture of connection… and access to collections and expertise. Right now, all of the experts are behind this cinder block wall. We want to be present, and to make students feel like they’re not bothering us.”

Part of creating this “culture of connection” involves relocating the librarian offices and creating the “personal librarian program”, where incoming students will be assigned a librarian. Snyder said that the library has created first through fourth year learning objectives, and hopes to play a key role in teaching students how to research and write, including emphasis on thesis assistance.

Additionally, the new library will offer better integration with Haverford’s Special Collections, and will have a larger focus on digital scholarship. There will be Special Collections rooms throughout the building, and a media center available to all students.

“A lot of work now, in its interdisciplinarity and the complexity of the questions, require a multi-faceted, multi-lens approach and that creates a rich dynamic experience,” Snyder said. “We want to create those spaces that really permit that in fairly compelling ways.”

In general, the library is hoping to increase the variety of spaces it offers, from casual relaxation to quiet study, and more. In response to student feedback, the new library will feature a cafe, as well as fifteen group study rooms, carrels in a variety of different environments, and more. This will increase “porosity”, as Snyder put it, encouraging students and others spontaneously work together.

“We wanted to provide a variety of different study spaces, since every student likes something different,” said Rio Morales ’17, a student on the committee.

The library will also offer more faculty carrels, likely for visiting professors, a new and improved exhibition space for student and professional work, and several seminar rooms.

The new design will preserve the Philips Wing and the “Boat” area, although the Boat will likely be removed to open up the space. The stacks will certainly be torn down. The hope, as Snyder described it, is to preserve Haverford’s heritage, while opening up the space to a more sleek, modern interpretation.

Ryan Gym

Ryan Gym is the furthest along of any of the projects. As soon as Summer 2015, the old gym may start to be transformed into the College’s new Visual Culture Arts and Media facility, or VCAM.

Campbell shared an official College description of the space, which explained its mission as offering “opportunities for students to learn, create, reflect, and share in a curricular and co-curricular setting. Students will study visual culture, its histories and forms, make projects within labs and exhibition spaces, and present their productions for public display and interrogation.”

“The Old Gym project is completely new,” Rob Fairman, the Associate Provost to oversee the projects. “The other projects you understand, because you know what a library is, you know what a biology and psychology program might look like, and you know what a music program might look like. We’re trying a brand new innovative idea over there.”

The space will be the new home of the Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities, which will move out of Stokes.

The new building will offer a state-of-the-art facility for creating and sharing digital media projects. There will be a large area devoted to media production, and a number of centers for editing, sound, and other technical opportunities. In addition, VCAM will provide classrooms, seminar rooms, faculty offices, and a 100+ person viewing and performance space.

 Roberts Hall

Renovations to Roberts Hall stem from a much-needed expansion to the Music Department, housed in the Union Building.

“The Union Building has been a problem for the Music Department for a long time. It was designed as the student union,” said Sam Hersh ’15, who belongs to a number of different academic building planning committees as a student representative.

The biggest issue is that none of the walls are sound proof, which means that practice almost anywhere in the building can be heard throughout all of Union. This poses a number of issues, especially given the layout of the building. Faculty offices are directly adjacent to the MacCrate music hall, and the practice rooms sit directly above the library.

In addition to noise problems, the building’s narrow staircases make carrying instruments up and down them difficult. Being an older building, it is difficult to control environmental factors in Union, meaning that instruments fall out of tune very easily.

Despite these issues, renovations to Union were found to be impractical, and it was estimated that a new building would cost around $25 million. Instead, additions will be made to Roberts Hall, with a focus on a number of new, soundproofed practice rooms. There will also be a large group practice space and several new faculty offices.

“For musical performances of the size we typically do, you want a much more intimate relationship with the audience and the musicians,” Fairman said. “The acoustics will be designed to be appropriate for music and the typical size of the audience, on the order of 100-150.”

Sharpless Wing

Renovations in Sharpless are the least extensive, and are planned to take place following the completion of VCAM, or possibly at the same time. Both the Biology and the Psychology departments, housed on the third and fourth floors, will be getting a facelift.

On the fourth floor, Campbell explained that the plan is to move the faculty offices from inside the labs, where it is harder to reach professors, to the front of the building, facing Founders Green. Additionally, Facilities will update the building’s electrical, water, and heating and cooling systems, as well as a few other areas.

“The air conditioning system in the building is 23 years old. The elevators are older than that,” Campbell said. “They’re ready for replacement.”


All of the building renovations will be made with the overall design and appearance of the campus in mind, a goal which is aided by the fact that they’re being designed in the same time period.

“We have a series of building projects that we’re considering, all of which are on Founders Green, which is the centerpiece of our campus,” President Dan Weiss said. “We want to think carefully about how will this look, since these buildings will likely outlive us – they ought to look good.”

“Each building is going to have some concept of probably a lot of glass addition,” Fairman said. “Every single consultant that came in came to this campus said, ‘We have no idea what you guys are doing here, because it’s all hidden behind stone walls. We feel that we need to help you open up to the broader community what’s going on in these buildings.’ It’s kind of a new architectural philosophy of being more open to what’s going on.”


  1. Ari April 7, 2014

    still struggling to understand how, if we are in such a dire fiscal situation (according to the admin) that requires cutting no-loan financial aid saving the college only $800,000/year, we are starting 4 simultaneous construction projects totalling $65 million+ (not to mention the cost of fundraising, etc. staff time) over the next 5 years.

    • syed April 14, 2014

      Says a lot about the administration’s priorities, doesn’t it?

  2. Nick Vechik February 16, 2015

    I think the general theory behind it is:
    a) That money wouldn’t come in otherwise (big donors want to see their money make something tangible), and
    b) Fancy, visible projects drive applications, which lead to other markers of “success”, which improves our US News ranking (blah)
    Don’t know if this theory is actually grounded in reality, but I believe that’s how they make these decisions.

    No-loan is also a relatively recent phenomenon, and a very generous one at that (though maybe I’m just grumpy because I missed it by a couple years)

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