Diamond Groundbreaking Set


Roberts renovation, Cotter expansion round out ambitious construction plans

By Stephen Collins '74

Architect's rendering of the Diamond Building
Diamond Building Construction
Construction of the Diamond Building, a three-story academic building at the south end of the Colby Green, will commence this spring. Trustees authorized $11.5 million for the 53,050-square-foot facility that will be home to the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and to various social science and interdisciplinary studies departments.

"This building is going to have a huge impact on the school," said Administrative Vice President Arnie Yasinski, addressing the trustees' Physical Plant Committee. It is the most ambitious in a series of construction projects on the new Colby Green and a key piece of the College's biggest expansion since it moved to Mayflower Hill from downtown Waterville in the 1940s and early '50s. Bidding was underway in February, and construction will begin this spring, as the new Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center, at the opposite end of Colby Green, progresses toward occupancy this June.

The new academic structure, located in what used to be the parking lot in front of Lunder House, will relate well to Colby's traditional Georgian architecture across Mayflower Hill Drive. It will be built of Colby brick with a copper roof and the familiar cream-white trim, and it will present a fairly traditional façade to the road.

The eastern face, the public entrance, is a complex arrangement of architectural forms and materials that break out of the traditional Georgian order of the central campus and reflect Colby's bold move into the 21st century. In deference to the traditional forms across the street, the other faces of the Diamond Building maintain the style, scale, and rhythms of Eustis, Arey, and similar buildings, said Joe Feely, supervisor of special projects.

The dramatic main entrance will enclose a three-story atrium that architect Peter Bohlin called "the heart" of the building. "Any time we make good spaces, they tend to get used beyond their intention," said Bohlin, a principal in the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

Besides classrooms and faculty offices, the Diamond Building will house a 180-seat auditorium, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab, and a 60-seat case-study classroom. Additional spaces further enable the College's state-of-the-art pedagogy: three group work rooms, 17 student research offices, and eight seminar or conference rooms.

Colby will sustain its commitment to sound environmental design and practices by seeking certification of the Diamond Building through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. That environmental consciousness meshes well with another Colby value that Bohlin observed during the design process. "You do things in a rather spare fashion," he said, "and I see that as a virtue."

Bohlin presented final plans to the trustees' Physical Plant Committee prior to the trustees' vote in January that approved the project. Bob Diamond '73, a trustee and the lead donor who pledged $6 million toward the project in 2003, was pleased with the plans. "Well done," he told Bohlin. "It's beautiful."

Architect's rendering of Roberts Dining Hall
Roberts Building Renovations
First it was Dana, in 1997, then Foss two years later. Now it's Roberts Dining Hall's turn for an extreme makeover. Construction begins on a $6.3-million renovation project in June, and a thoroughly transformed facility will reopen for second semester next year.

The project will close the Roberts operation first semester, so Foss and Dana will have to take up the slack. Ultimately, though, the project will address a variety of needs in the downstairs level of the Roberts Building, modernizing a facility that opened in 1947. Food preparation areas will be reconfigured and modernized, a bakery will be built, and a handsome and unified dining area, seating 220, will replace two separate sections that exist today.

Representatives of Bruner/Cott Architects of Cambridge, Mass., explained that the facility is currently configured for institutional food service of a bygone era"single-file lines that march past steam tables where a cafeteria worker puts food on plates. The kitchen area is sufficiently cramped that the salad bar, drink station, and desserts are located in the dining area, so the dining room isn't useful for events even when the kitchen is closed.

The new vision calls for exhibition cooking stations"islands where chefs stir-fry dishes or grill food in the open. That cooking area will open into a spacious dining hall incorporating a range of seating options, not just ranks of long tables.

There will be a private dining room seating 22 for discussions and tray-lunch programs. Offices for dining services employees will be reconfigured, and the Roberts kitchen will get a much-needed upgrade and expansion. Though most of the work will take place downstairs in Roberts, the entrance to the building will be reconfigured, with the existing sunken courtyard and outdoor stairs to be converted into more usable interior space and a shaft to bring natural light into the dining hall entrance and offices.

"It is the most urgent infrastructure project we have on campus," Administrative Vice President Arnie Yasinski told the trustees' Physical Plant Committee in January.

"I think they [students] will be thrilled," said Janice Kassman, vice president for student affairs. "They have seen what can be done in Dana and Foss."

Cotter Union Expansion
As the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center construction wraps up this spring and as Diamond Building construction and Roberts renovations get underway, another major project remains on the drawing board"a significant expansion of Cotter Union.

Creating a true center for student life was identified as an important goal in Colby's strategic plan, and a feasibility study commissioned in 2004 proposed building a central "heart" in Cotter Union to create spaces where students could meet, greet, and hang out.

The preliminary study proposes a 7,000-square-foot addition between the two existing wings, with space for a coffee bar, a new configuration of The Spa, a small campus store, public computers, a television lounge, and spaces for events of various sizes.

The proposal provoked some controversy. Initial plans, which Vice President for Student Affairs Janice Kassman characterized as "very preliminary," threaten a pair of large European beech trees northwest of the building. Concerned faculty members formed a group they call Friends of the Beeches, and a petition was signed by 63 percent of the faculty opposing removal of the trees.

Professor of English Linda Tatelbaum, who helped organize opposition, expressed her concerns about the trees and other aspects of the feasibility study in a memo to the Board of Trustees in January.

The architect for the project, Peter Bohlin, is working on alternate configurations and planned an open forum on campus in March. Construction and extensive renovations in Cotter Union are tentatively slated to begin in the summer of 2006.