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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.


A New Year, and Some New and Improved Spaces

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Every September, students return to campus to find that something about the landscape has changed. Over the years, Middlebury has maintained a remarkably distinct culture—visiting alums often comment on how the campus still feels the way it did when they attended the College—but the physical plant has certainly evolved and expanded.

This year’s changes are more in the nature of renovations. We have not replaced the Bubble or the Mods—not yet—but we have improved some existing spaces. Here are the major projects completed this summer, plus photos.

Forest Hall: A huge project finished in a compressed time-frame, resulting in an overhaul of the major building system, new residential spaces, and air conditioning.

New lounge:

New room:

History of Art and Architecture Suite: The Music Library moved to the Davis Family Library, and HARC took its place in MCFA. The suite includes offices for the faculty, two new classrooms, and a new space for the slide library. And the College Art Museum is just steps away.

Reworking the entrance:

In the suite:

New classroom:

Kohn Field: New turf and lights.

Landscape Around Atwater: Following up on plans developed in the student design competition (“Turf Battle“), Facilities Services has begun work on a project to enhance the landscape in and around Halls A and B and the Chateau. That plan includes additional vegetation and a new stone patio. Much of the work will be completed by the end of September, though we will not be able to finish the project until next summer.

118 South Main: An old, historic house, renovated as office space for emeriti faculty, who will now be across the street from the Davis Family Library.

Solar Decathlon House: A site is being prepared for the house on Porter Field Road, where the building will be installed when it returns from the competition in Washington, DC.

Hepburn Steam Line: The kind of project that seems to get done by magic in the summer, thanks to efficient work by Facilities Services. Ten days ago, this area around Hepburn was torn up.

Atwater Construction-Turf Battle

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Doing large construction projects at Middlebury comes with a unique challenge, that of time. Most colleges and universities have various programs running throughout the summer, like summer camps and classes. Middlebury, though, has an entire college, the Language School. This intensive 6-9 week program requires the full attention of the students, so we in Facilities try not to tear the whole place up. Therefore, most of our large projects, like the Atwater landscape, we schedule for the couple of weeks from the end of August to the start of Fall Semester.

So Turf Battle begins. We’re winning, by the way, turf tends to lose when faced with an excavator. I will admit its been quite an experience. Most landscape restorations I’ve done at Middlebury are all uphill-starting from the beginning to the very end, the continual process is one of improvement, the next day looking better than the first.

The Atwater landscape at present looks like hell.

Fear not. We’re laying a good foundation, and things will come together quickly. Much of what we’ve done is laying a good foundation (literally, in some cases) for the landscaping on top. I took a bunch of pictures last week to share on the progress.

One of the first parts was the renovation of the ADA ramp to Atwater Dining Hall. The old ramp, made of blacktop, was ripped out, and after regrading, replaced with concrete, now meeting proper codes for width, pitch, and a flat landing area at the bend.

This sidewalk, on the west side of Allen Hall, was added. To the left of the sidewalk in the triangle formed by the walks will be a large planting bed.

Another view of the new walk. This area previously was all crushed stone, put down to prevent mud, as the area was so heavily trafficked that no grass could grow.

This was the beginning of the patio, after layout. The grades here are tricky-the natural lay of the existing ground wanted to send water right toward the building. This is where the excavator came in handy.

View of the patio looking north. This type of patio is tricky to pour and stamp. The concrete is pre-colored in the truck, then stamped on site with what for all intensive purposes look like giant rubber stamps. The process takes a while, so only a square a day can be done, lest the concrete set up before it all gets stamped.

A freshly poured corner piece. We kept the sidewalk through the center of the patio looking like sidewalk in order to keep it’s function. Hopefully tables and chairs won’t be placed on the sidewalk to keep the way clear for access.

A view of the berm looking north. The berm is made of topsoil removed from all the sidewalk and patio excavation, so is a sandy/rocky mix. The berm will be topped with 6″ of good topsoil, to help the trees and lawn that will be planted there. It is hard to get a feel for the size of the berm on pictures, but suffice it to say it is quite large in person.

Here is a view of the berm looking south. The rise at present is pretty close to 4′

One of my favorite parts of the project, not showing up well with my weak cell phone camera. This view is from the top of the berm looking towards Chipman Hill. While during the design competition we’d discussed saving the view of the hill, what surprised me that I hadn’t thought of is the new perspective of the Atwater Dining green roof afforded by the higher topography of the berm.

The project won’t be done by the time the semester begins. Our goal is to have most of the loud construction finished shortly. There are a couple of squares of patio to finish, as well as the two sidewalks leading west from the patio. The next step, which should begin this week, is the planting. We’ll be starting with the planting around Atwater Dining, and will expand out from there as other pieces of the project fall into place.

 

A Commencement Day

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Syndicated from Tim Parson's blog, The Middlebury Landscape, this is a humorous, behind-the-scenes look at all of the hard work that goes in to making the quad beautiful for Commencement Day. - Tim

4:30 comes early. I like to say I’m a morning person, but the alarm goes off, it’s summer, it’s dark, and well, that’s just too early. I drive to campus, and park behind Kenyon Arena. All facilities staff park there, so the incoming guests can park closer, and we walk to the Service Building, not talking a whole lot. I’m mainlining coffee. The walk towards campus feels a bit like a fish swimming upstream, as most of the senior class is walking away from campus, towards Alumni Stadium to watch the sunrise. Both sets of people, though, look a little bleary eyed and tired. They get to go take a nap later.

The work day starts at 5, with all hands walking the campus picking up any trash we may find. It’s never really all that bad, more like sweeping the front porch before 6000 guests arrive. We walk our snow shovel routes, with others dispatched to hot spots. I like this time of day, the calm before the storm. I also like ending up near the stadium as the sun rises. The shouts, whoops, and hollers of the graduating class as the sun comes up quickly gets subdued, and all becomes quiet, maybe as the reality of the light of day hits-it feels like an end, and a new beginning for them.

At 6 or so the swarm of workers descend to the commencement site, the main quad below Mead Chapel. The tents were erected previously in the week, including the main tent, technically called the clamshell. Some in Facilities spent part of yesterday setting chairs in front of the tent. It’s a delicate balance. While it’s nice to have some of the many many thousand chairs we need to place already up, we could spend a large chunk of the morning drying them off from dew or, even worse, rain. Towels work best, although we have resorted to backpack blowers in the past.

My day begins in earnest as well. My job is to set up the flowers in front of the commencement tent. There is a giant seal of Middlebury College right in front of the stage, and 300 red geraniums are placed at the base. First secret exposed? I leave them in the trays, and mound mulch around them to make them look like a planted bed. All life is a stage.

 

To give you some idea of how long Facilities plans the commencement ceremony, I first get asked to order the geraniums in September. I say you bet, but I don’t worry about them all too much. (perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this?) I buy the geraniums from a local wholesale grower, so 300 is just a tiny little drop in the bucket. It doesn’t even make a dent in the greenhouse. He gets the stress though, and the fact that they have to be right shade of red, so he doesn’t pick on me too much when I’m ordering plants 9 months in advance.

While I’m there working, I’m also watching the second coolest job for the day, the hanging of the flags. Behind the tent, hanging off of Voter Hall, are flags of every country represented by the graduating class. I was told we had to buy 9 new ones this year. I counted 59 flags when they were done, but I was supposed to be working, not counting, so there may have been more. They use a lift truck, 65′ boom, and I bet it takes them a good hour or two. One year, someone in Facilities that was attending the festivities looked up, and noticed one of the flags was for the Boston Red Sox. Oh, the horror, and the humor. Mostly horror, but we had to admit it was pretty funny. We got into the student’s room, where he thoughtfully leaned the correct flag against the wall after he leaned out his window and made the switch.

The lift truck hanging flags

I also rent some shrubs to do a fake little planting where the tent guy lines get staked in front of the clamshell. When I first arrived on campus, I noticed a plethora of White Potentilla and Dwarf Garland Spirea planted here, there, pretty much any little corner. You see, they used to come buy them off me when I worked up the road at Greenhaven, for the very same purpose I now use Ivory Halo Red Twig Dogwood (not white flowers, but a pretty variegated leaf). I don’t want to fill the campus exclusively with a plant that looks for great for two weeks in the spring, so I just rent them and bring them back to Greenhaven the next week. They don’t make a habit of it, but I still have a little bit of influence. (I also tend to help a customer or two while I’m there-old habits and all)

There is a huge amount of activity taking place around me. It’s too much for a blog post, it could be it’s own blog. The brunt of it, though, is chair setting. Some chairs get set the day before, but the bulk are set this morning. And by bulk, I’m talking thousands. We have a tractor trailer we keep filled with chairs, I think it’s about 4000. The trailer is parked on the road, and trucks and gators are used to ferry them to the setters, following the lead of the string setters, who assure the chairs are placed in straight lines.

Seriously, we use string and stakes to set chairs. Not because the person setting chairs is a civil engineer, although that helps, but because looking at 5000 chairs set out, well, they just NEED to be straight. For a great video picture diary of chair setting, view the pictures taken by the communications department of the (very wet) day before.

The early arrivals for the ceremony begin arriving around 8 or so. There’s a couple key places to sit, and they usually go first. One  is the area around a Red maple, which offers some key shade most years. The other isn’t in the chairs at all, but up the hill towards Gifford, where the day beforehand the landscape department sets all the Adirondack chairs out. Watching commencement while reclining in a comfy chair? Oh yeah, that’s the way to do it.

Graduates start arriving soon as well, and get staged east of Old Chapel. I usually run into Matt Biette, the extraordinary head of dining, for the first of several times today, handing out water and breakfast sandwiches to the seniors. Starch and re hydration-Matt’s a genius.

Time to pull out, get out of Dodge, and pretend we aren’t even there. Some years, the landscape department goes and pulls weeds, radio close by. I have another semi-official job, though, that of weather-boy. Luther Tenny, Chair General (you did click that link on chair setting above, right?) calls me occasionally, wondering what the weather radar looks like. I’m the local weather geek, next to Luther, who is in an information tent on site, so isn’t close to a computer. I was watching this year by Android phone, as it was a spectacular day to pull weeds. The year Bill Clinton was the speaker several thunderstorms were forming in upstate New York, and I was freaking out. 6000 plus guests, and a storm on the way? I deferred to the experts, and called the National Weather Service in Burlington, who thought I was nuts, until I explained just exactly why I was calling, and they set my mind at ease. It rained for about 3 minutes, and then the sun came out and all was well. So, really, I’ve never seen the ceremony.

11:30 all the workers start traipsing up the hill towards Mead Chapel, where we get fed. All parents and graduates get fed by Matt Biette and crew, and that’s another blog post all together. Middlebury has an amazing home-grown dining service, and the food is great. They are brave feeding the landscape crew before the guests, but they certainly cook enough. Second Matt sighting-right below Mead Chapel telling guests walking up the hill that food is on both sides of Mead, and the lines are never too long. It seems like almost every student stops to talk to him.

The lure of the food works, and the chairs and stage empty soon enough, and facilities goes berserk in reverse. It’s easier to take things apart than put them up, and the chair trailer fills again. We also store chairs all over campus, so trucks are dispatched to places I haven’t even seen yet in my 5 years here. It’s a logistical nightmare, and always goes off without a hitch. I take apart the flowers, and plant them in the coming week by Admissions.  We’re done by 3 or 4 PM most years.

Breakdown

Rain or Shine

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Every year in May, a dedicated crew from Facilities Services takes on the task of readying the campus for Commencement. Their duties are numerous and their days are long. Assistant Director of Facilities Services Luther Tenny gives us a brief glimpse into one of those jobs, and the spirit and efficiency with which they do it!

 

 

 


All-Gender Restroom Project

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In recent months, Sarah Franco, Special Projects Coordinator, and Jennifer Herrera, Special Assistant to the Dean of the College, have been engaged with a group of students to develop a plan for creating all-gender (also known as gender-neutral) restrooms in non-residential buildings on campus. This initiative grew out of a recommendation put forth last spring by an ad hoc study group that published a review of potential student life issues facing transgender students. In their final report, JJ Boggs, Associate Director of Campus Activities, and Mary Hurlie, Associate Director for Career Services, recommended that the College “initiate a collaboration with other appropriate college offices, with a goal to convert as many gender-designated bathrooms into gender-neutral bathrooms as possible.”

In pursuing this recommendation, the College hopes to provide support for the safety and health of Middlebury’s transgender students, faculty, and staff. We also believe that acting on this recommendation will benefit other members of our community. For example, the presence of all-gender restrooms would provide more flexibility for disabled individuals who have opposite-gender caretakers. It would also help parents of young children since they would not have to decide which restroom to use. In sum, all-gender restrooms would create more restroom options for all people to use.

It is important to note that the majority of restrooms on this campus would still have a male or female gender designation. There are many within our community who are unable to use mixed-gender restrooms for a variety of religious and personal reasons. These perspectives are equally valued by the College.

Now that the group has engaged President’s Staff, the Space Committee, Community Council, Faculty Council, and Staff Council in conversations about the proposed changes, the College will begin implementation in two phases. In the first phase, we will change the signs on all non-residential single-stall restrooms to one that includes the male and female symbols as well as the universal symbol of accessibility where applicable.  Single-stall restrooms may then be used by anyone. We expect that this phase of the project will be complete by the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. Because not all buildings have single-stall restrooms, the College will work collaboratively with the occupants of such buildings to identify a multi-stall restroom that could be converted to an all-gender facility. This process will likely begin in the fall. We recognize this is a sensitive issue, and so if it is not possible to reach a consensus, then there may be some non-residential buildings that do not have any all-gender restrooms.

If you have any questions or concerns about this project, please do not hesitate to send a note to vpadmin@middlebury.edu. Alternatively, you may leave questions and feedback in the comments section (anonymously, if you wish).

Wanted: Turf Battle Feedback

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On Tuesday afternoon, three groups of students presented their proposals for the Atwater landscape. The students, staff, and faculty in the audience asked a lot of great questions and provided solid feedback for how certain aspects of each proposal could be improved. One suggestion that came up frequently was to incorporate various elements of each design into one plan.

Over at the Turf Battle blog, Tim Parsons has provided a summary of each proposal. There you can download their plans and presentation slides. We strongly encourage you to leave your questions and feedback in the comments section, or email vpadmin@middlebury.edu. Remember: the landscape is for the community and we want to know what you think! When the Master Plan Implementation Committee meets in the coming weeks, your ideas will be taken into consideration.