Tags » Facilities


Blind Sidewalk

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Landscape architects sometimes speak of ‘desire paths’-a phrase that means exactly like it sounds. Laying out sidewalks, driveways, or trails is considerably harder than it looks. A budding architect can either be a hero for guessing exactly where pedestrians want to walk, or a goat for taking an urban mentality and assuming people will use the sidewalk regardless of location.

Try as we might, the Middlebury campus is full of desire lines. Some are an easy fix. Two new sidewalks cut across the top of the Atwater quad based on dirt paths that had appeared post-construction based on pedestrian traffic flow. One that couldn’t be done, a dirt path from the Johnson Parking lot to Atwater dining, we tried to block with trees and shrubs, but the desire remains unabated. Another one that concerns us is a dirt path from Battell Beach heading toward Milliken Hall. This cuts in a straight line up slope, and is becoming so worn down that it may soon start to erode.

Dirt path behind Allen Hall

Dirt path behind Allen Hall

A new desire path appeared after the renovation of The Axinn Center at Starr Library. The northeast corner of the building, down by Route 30, houses several large classrooms, and students cut across the quad from the Main  library down to that corner.

Not that we blame the pedestrians. It’s cold here. Getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible makes campus life a little more tolerable in January and February. It’s a pretty obvious place for a walk, but the problem is the other walks in the space.

Before my time, the walk ways were redone, and came out beautiful. This is landscape architecture at it’s best. Gently curving paths arc across the space, connecting the buildings that surround the quad. The brilliance of the plan is the fact that they work. In colder climes like ours usually corners are cut, curves straightened, and shortcuts abound. The desire line from the library to that corner was, as expected, straight, and pouring this as a walk would break the beautiful rhythm of the rest of the walkways.

pathways plan view

Then, after one winter storm, the path was beaten through the snow, this time gently arching around some trees, eventually meeting the walkway to the library.

pathway zoomed

With this proof of concept, we were off and running. Last summer we went out to the quad with surveyor flags, and marked a potential route. Some language school students became willing test subjects, and we tweaked the lines for an hour or so until it flowed right.

The other, even more subtle brilliance of the walkway layout in the library quad is the way the sidewalks are blind, hidden from view. I bet few people have noticed this, but a picture makes it obvious.

2013-08-19 07.46.49

View from Route 30

Looking up from Route 30, the quad appears to a large expanse of lawn, unbroken by walkways. The art is in the subtle placement of the walkways. All of them are slightly built up on the route 30 side, and pitch towards Old Chapel Road. Leaning the other way, the flat expanse of the walk would be visible, but the design at present allows them to be blind, not seen from the road. Obviously that couldn’t be done had the road been higher than the quad, but geology and geography was on our side this time.

The new walk was tricky to match this effect. Its placement across the quad required some elevation of the surrounding area, as well as some grading to continue the natural water flow across the lawn. Had this been interrupted the sidewalk would pool water and turn into an icy mess.

2013-08-14 14.36.04

Under Lock and Key

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Locksmith Mike Pixley took three steps into the residence hall when he noticed something was wrong. The back door leading out to the patio was propped open and yet the security alarm was not going off.

“How did they do that?” Pixley wondered, and in an instant he found out. Using about 25 cents’ worth of spare parts, some students had figured out a way to bypass the alarm system. Could something sinister be afoot? No, the students simply wanted easy access to the outdoors on a hot and sunny September afternoon.

A locksmith’s hands are his most precious tool.

“I have to remove this,” Pixley said, disassembling the bypass device, “but I do have to admire their ingenuity. Sometimes the students create more work for us, but that’s okay. They’re the reason why we’re here.”

Pixley has been at Middlebury for 26 years, and he has staffed the lock department with Randy Benedict, a fellow locksmith, for all but two of those years. Together they have had a hand, literally, on every lock and every key and every door at Middlebury College.

At last count, Pixley and Benedict have issued 21,290 keys to operate the more than 5,000 locks on campus. They are also accountable for the hardware on every door on campus – a number that approaches 10,000 – whether it has a lock or not. Things like hinges, doorknobs, strike plates, and crash bars are their responsibility. Keyless push-button locks, like the new ones in Forest, Meeker, and Munford, and the older ones in Peterson Athletic Center, fall under their purview too.

You see there’s a whole lot more to being a locksmith than installing locks and making keys.

For example, if you have one of the 21,290 keys issued by the College, take a good look at it. See those numbers and letters stamped on the key? That’s a code the locksmiths have stamped on every key at Middlebury since the late 1980s, and just by looking at the key code they can tell you which lock it opens. The code also tells them who the key was issued to and when.

Likewise, look at the face of almost any lock on campus. It too has a code that the locksmiths have stamped on it. That way the lock department can make a duplicate key or replace the core or analyze a problem without having to make multiple trips to the site. But quick trips across campus are nothing new to the locksmiths. A student’s room door won’t lock. A professor can’t get into his office. A classroom door won’t open.

Pixley (left) and Randy Benedict install a door at McCullough.

“Call the locksmiths!” It’s a refrain heard nearly every day at Middlebury, and that’s when either Benedict or Pixley will zip across campus — on foot, in their John Deere “green machine,” or in their own vehicles — to solve the problem. They work so closely together, and have for so long, that they share a single two-way radio and the same call sign (#371) in Facilities Services.

The locksmiths start most mornings before 7:30 a.m. by meeting with their supervisor, Wayne Hall, in the Service Building. Next they head upstairs to the lock shop to go over the day’s work orders together (yellow for routine maintenance; white for “dorm damage”), split up the jobs, determine priorities, and get down to business.

Before they head out into the field, the locksmiths handle the day’s key requests: keys for contractors working on campus, keys for new employees, keys for departments that need them for student-workers, and a constant stream of lost keys.

“With the lost keys, we always look at the security level of the area. Like what doors did that key open? If it opened just one door, then we’ll probably issue a replacement key. But if that key opened multiple doors, then maybe we will have to re-key the whole area,” Pixley explained.

On the day when a writer from middmag.com tagged along with Pixley, he went to the KDR house to cut a cable, to McCardell Bicentennial Hall to fix a door closer on the seventh floor, to the Peterson Athletic Center to help the general services crew remove a door frame, to McCullough Student Center to re-hang two mahogany doors, and to Munford House to fix a bathroom door that wasn’t closing properly.

He also worked in the shop on a lock and handle combination from Bi Hall that wasn’t retracting properly. As Pixley started pulling the faulty mechanism apart, he said, “There’s a $15 part in there that wears out and it happens purely because of manufacturer’s error. But these locks go for $250 apiece and they’re out of warranty, so if I have to put an hour of labor and a new part in it, then it’s worth it.”

Mike Pixley fills a work order for new keys.

Door closers – the devices that shut a door after you walk through it – are taken for granted everywhere. But walk into any building at Middlebury or through almost any door, and what happens next? The door closes behind you. It happens over and over: dozens of times a day, hundreds of times a week, thousands of times a year. That’s why door closers frequently need adjustment or replacement.

“Did you see how fast that door was closing?” Pixley asked while replacing some worn-out hardware on a door. “Someone could have lost a finger in there.” So he adjusted the door closer too.

As the Army veteran hopped into his green machine and started back across campus, a gaggle of students momentarily blocked the way. Ever patient, Pixley turned and said, “Our job is to provide a safe, secure environment for them.” It was the perfect sound bite for a day with the locksmiths, and then he added, “We never have a dull day.”

Workshop Report– “Spaces That Inspire: Gathering the Data and Acting on What our Students Tell Us About the Library as Place”

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Workshop Report–  “Spaces That Inspire: Gathering the Data and Acting on What our Students Tell Us About the Library as Place”  by NERCOMP.  Description and schedule with names of presenters can be viewed here.  http://nercomp.org/index.php?section=events&evtid=141

This day long workshop turned out to be quite useful and I was impressed by how well organized it was.  I’d be happy to share more details with anyone who might be interested.

1st session: “Post-its, Pencils, and Placement: A Simple Technique for Getting Student Involvement in the Planning Process “ was sort of a repeat for me personally because the inspiration for it came from a Dartmouth Conference presentation by our own Carrie Macfarlane, to whom for which credit was duly given.  I’d seen Carrie’s presentation and also seen the technique in use here at Middlebury.   A large board is installed in a public place asking a single question.  Post-it pads are provided and students write answers on the notes and post them on the board.  This encourages a lot of interactive comments as people build off the ideas of others.  Themes surface and expand.  It’s quick and inexpensive.  They used it to gather information for a renovation project and they shared the results of the renovation that is opening next month.   Here’s  a link to the PowerPoint.  http://nercomp.org/corecode/uploads/event/uploaded_pdfs/Post-its,%20Pencils,%20and%20Placement%20-%20University%20of%20RI%20-%20Amanda%20Izenstark%20and%20Mary%20MacDonald_138.pdf

2nd session:  “Worth a Thousand Words. Letting Pictures Speak”  A very interesting and useful session.  The idea is to get a group of students in a room and provide each of them with large pieces of paper and various markers/pens/pencils, then ask them to draw their ideal classroom, study space, lounge, whatever.  Emphasizing  that there’s no right answer and that they’re designing their own personal ideal.   Allow them time to brainstorm visually on their own, then go around the room and ask them to describe their drawing. This exercise brings out common themes as well as unique ideas.  Notes are taken and a list of desired elements compiled.  We each drew our ideal classroom and then went around the room and looked at everyone else’s drawing.   I can imagine actually trying this here at Middlebury LIS.

3rd session: “Getting the Most out of Your Data: Methods for Collection, Coding and Use for Implementing Change in Student Learning Spaces” The most useful session of the day for me.  Basically they shared how they made use of the great quantity of data that is to be found within the comments fields of surveys.  Using a list of “codes” they categorize various comments and then use a spreadsheet to organize them by code.  The organized lists can then be shared with appropriate staff,(for instance those who oversee printing, reference services, the café, etc.)  for further evaluation.   I emailed the presenters and they willingly shared their list of 100 codes.  Key take away- they hired student assistants to go through all the comments and code them because they, just like us, don’t have the time to do it themselves.   Here’s the PowerPoint.


4th session: “Resurrecting Elihu Burritt Library: The Challenges and Opportunities of Rehabbing Library Space” The presenters gave an overview of a recent renovation project and talked about future plans.  Not particularly applicable to me or Middlebury.

5th session: “Space Project Plans Writ Small”  We used a retro style game from a diner place mat (literally, the kind of thing that kids would get to fill out in a restaurant in the 60s and 70s) as a tool to get user input into the kind of space they’d like.   It’s the kind of thing you have to see to understand and an example of it can be seen in the ppt from the 3rd session.   I’m not sure what to think of this tool, but if we had an artist who could draw something similar, it might be interesting to give something like it a try with a group of student assistants.

The day ended with the very capable facilitator Susanna Cowan, Undergraduate Education Team Leader at Univ. of Conn., leading us in a review of the day.  Thanks to Hans Raum for pointing this workshop out to me!

Old Chapel Remediation

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Even with the fine (and distracting) weather this past week, it’s hard not to notice the work now taking place around Old Chapel.  Some may be wondering what this project is all about.

The short explanation is that we are staving off mold growth in Old Chapel, and that we’re repairing the walls so that moisture can’t enter the building.  Moisture creates the conditions for mold growth.

The back story is that since Old Chapel was renovated 15 or 16 years ago, the mortar holding together the stonework has deteriorated as condensation—perhaps caused by air conditioning—has worked its way into the walls, eroding the mortar. The eroded mortar has in turn made it easier for moisture to come through the walls, especially on the first floor where the offices are below grade.  Also, as the photo below suggests, the original 19th-century foundation was constructed to hold up the building, not keep it airtight.  So it’s not surprising that moisture has seeped through the walls.

But conditions will be much improved after the mortar has been repaired.  The contractors engaged on this project, Liszt Historical Restoration, did a great job renovating Starr Library for the Axinn Center and they specialize in detective work like this.

You can expect to see this work continue through the fall.

The Return of the Solar Decathlon House

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The house arrived in pieces–from the competition in DC–and is now being reassembled on Porter Field Road for likely occupancy this spring.  That’s Ben Brown, Solar Decathlon Health and Safety Officer, snapping on a piece of the roof and surveying the landscape. 


An Update on the All-Gender Restroom Project

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As Tim mentioned in two of his posts last week, the campus’ physical plant went under the proverbial knife this summer, both inside and out. One project that has chugged along steadily this summer is the all-gender restroom project, which Tim and Dean of the College Shirley Collado announced earlier this spring.

The first phase of the project, in which single-stall restrooms with gender designations are converted to all-gender, is nearly complete. Facilities Services Project Manager Mark Gleason has surveyed the single-stall restrooms for accessibility, and Space Manager Mary Stanley is about to place the order for signs. (It should be noted that Mark and Mary have been excellent resources throughout this project, offering advice and getting us the information we need.) In the coming weeks, the following restrooms will be converted through a sign change:

Adirondack House, 2nd Floor

Armstrong Library, 1st Floor

Axinn, Basement, ADA Accessible

Hillcrest, 1st Floor

Old Chapel, 3rd & 4th Floors

Service Building, 1st Floor

Warner, Basement & 3rd Floor

The second phase of the project is moving forward, too. This summer, Jennifer Herrera and I met with the academic department chairs, office heads, and facilities liaisons in Axinn, BiHall, and McCullough to discuss the conversion of one pair of multi-stall restrooms in each building. These meetings were very productive. Attendees asked questions, shared their concerns and their support, and offered many ideas for potential outcomes. Other faculty and staff members who work in these buildings will have the opportunity to do the same during a series of open meetings coming up next week.

Questions? Please feel free to leave a comment, or email Jennifer or me.

Emerging Landscapes—From Atwater to Washington DC

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Given the progress made this week on the Atwater landscape project, I can’t resist posting these photos (taken this morning), and encouraging people to take a walk over to the north side of the campus to see the area. Though it’s not done yet, as College Horticulturalist Tim Parsons noted in this week’s Campus, the project is gradually coming together—just “have faith.”

But I should point out that this work and the facilities projects described in my earlier post require more than faith to be completed. Besides financial resources and the hard work of staff and hired contractors, they require careful planning and management. Kudos to the Project Managers engaged on all these projects: Tim Parsons (Atwater landscape); Tom McGinn (Forest and the Solar Decathlon site); Mark Gleason (HARC and Kohn Field); and Mary Stanley (118 South Main).

Meanwhile, 488 miles to the south . . .

. . . the Solar Decathlon team arrived this week on the National Mall, where they have sited their solar-powered house—called Self-Reliance—and are getting ready for the competition sponsored by the Department of Energy. We’ll be hearing more about this competition in the coming weeks, but for now check out this cool time-lapse video of the team reassembling their house. Rumor has it they were the first team on the mall to begin construction. They make it look so easy . . . ! You can read daily updates about the team’s progress on their blog.