By: Larry Schall
20 February 2002
I appreciate Mark's comments, all of which he has expressed to the Committee over this semester. I would like to respond to some specific statements he makes in his dissenting report.
Mark writes: "The College's future building plans are threefold: converting the near north faculty neighborhood to institutional use; constructing a hotel/restaurant/parking structure on the south campus; and building an athletic fields complex on the Nether Providence side of the Crum Woods."
This is not factual. The College's building plans at the present time include a renovation of Parrish Hall and a new 150-bed residence hall. We also have a list of some eighty projects that have been approved by the Board of Managers for fiscal year 2002-03. These projects include a renovation of the track and stadium field, the expansion of our boiler plant, a small addition to Papazian Hall for storage, and the renovation of the first floor of Beardsley.
There are no plans to convert a neighborhood. There is a proposal to allow the College, if it ever wished to do so in the future, increased flexibility for use in certain areas. We have such flexibility in a number of zones already (Cunningham Fields, Crum Woods, the entire College side of Elm Avenue from Cedar past Walnut, etc.). The fact that this flexibility exists is not the same as a plan to convert.
Also, the College is NOT building a hotel. We have expressed a desire to work with the Borough to revitalize the Business District and allow some of our land to be leased to a developer, who would build a hotel with its own funds. As everyone knows, all this is far from being a completed arrangement.
Finally, in response to the expressed needs of the College's Athletics Department for additional fields to meet their programmatic needs, one idea that has been floated is to create fields on land we own across the creek. There is no plan to build such a complex anymore than there is a plan to expand Hicks to meet the need of Engineering or to build a new library to meet needs there. There is a need that has been identified, and we are exploring possible solutions. This particular idea is extremely complex and the first place it will be examined in detail is the College's Crum Woods Stewardship Committee. Could there be a more appropriate place for this idea to be explored?
Mark writes: "But the assumption that the College needs more institutional space beyond its current borders is a debatable point in my mind. In the mid-1990s the College capped future student body growth at 1375."
The Board of Managers capped the student body at 1375. It did not, of course, cap future growth; that decision will be made by future leaders based upon the needs of the College for their generation. As a matter of fact, because of insufficient residence hall space, we have not even reached the current cap.
Mark writes: "Since no such growth or future need is now being contemplated, why does the College need zoning and other concessions from the Borough at the present time?"
When the College was founded and throughout its history, the leaders of the College have understood that this institution would need to be adaptable to remain strong. Our tremendous history of success has, at least in part, been due to the ability of the College to realize that what exists today may not be what exists in the future. If we were to wait until it was clear exactly how things would change, it is very likely that the opportunity to adapt would have passed us by. The Borough has been, and I expect it will continue to be, reluctant to deal with flexibility on an ad hoc basis. I understand that reluctance. This is the first time that the Borough has invited the College to work alongside it to review the big picture. To pass on this opportunity, in my view, would be negligent.
Mark writes: "The College occupies a campus of more than 300 acres and does not need to raze or convert existing near campus housing to serve its institutional needs. The College should look to the lower campus, on the one hand, and move toward decked parking, on the other, as a way of both expanding and conserving its physical plant. In particular, the College should shift its focus away from the green and residential fringes of the campus -- i. e., the Crum Woods, the near north residential neighborhood (including Whittier Place, Elm Avenue, and the area bounded by Chester Road and Cedar), and the Harvard Avenue site &endash; and move its focus instead back to the lower level of the main campus as more centrally located and thus a better suited future site for development -- specifically, the area around McCabe Library and Old Tarble, the area south of Sharples Dining Hall and that runs east toward the tennis courts, and the area along Chester Road between the new dorm, the Benjamin West house, and Worth Hall. "
Mark has identified in this list the same sites the Land Use Planning Committee has identified for the future. The lower campus has a couple, but only a couple, of sites remaining. The one side South of the McCabe library should probably be reserved for library expansion. Along Chester Road, we are already planning to build a new residence hall. When one allows for parking and road access and green space, that area will be pretty much used up. In any event, new academic buildings are not appropriate on Chester Road, or South of the Dining Hall. Is there some more space on the South part of campus for buildings of some type? Absolutely. We spent session after session in the Land Use Planning Committee analyzing these sites. Will that be sufficient to meet all potential College needs in the future? Absolutely not.
Mark writes: "Why is it important to prevent the College's expansion into the near north residential neighborhood? This neighborhood was constituted by the West Hill Land Company in 1878 as Swarthmore Borough's first residential community. It is deemed a national treasure and recommended as worthy of being listed on the National Historic Registry by the Delaware County Planning Commission in its just published survey of all homes in Swarthmore Borough. At its origins, it was largely built by and for Swarthmore faculty as a residential neighborhood integral to the life and mission of the College. It is a precious architectural gem that should be preserved in perpetuity as a living, vital neighborhood, not a target for institutional conversions, demolition, and expansion. This entire neighborhood, including the block bordered by Cedar and Chester Road, should remain virtually untouched."
The entire College campus was nominated for this identical designation in the same document to which Mark refers. The campus includes many structures that are homes or were homes at one point. Sproul served as a home; so did Benjamin West House; so did the Cunningham House; so did the BCC, and there are others. The committee fully supports the value of faculty living in close proximity to campus through generously-supported subsidy programs, and made that clear in our recommendations. The majority of the committee does not believe we would be violating that value if a faculty member who now lives on Elm, after receiving multi-year notice of a possible different use of that College-owned house, was offered the chance to live in another College-owned house one block away.
Mark wrote: "Consider one example of what might be lost in the College's plan. Two of Swarthmore's oldest and most distinctive Gothic Revival homes in the Borough -- 404 Elm Avenue and 318 North Chester Road, known originally as "Sunny Slope" and "The Gables," respectively -- date back to the early 1880s, the same period that witnessed the construction of the Courtney Smith House. These two homes are possibly threatened by the College's proposal to have this block rezoned institutional so that the College can build large-scale institutional building on that block."
The Land Use Planning Committee has never supported the razing of anything. Furthermore, structures that are deemed historic are certainly able to be preserved with a different use. Witness the Benjamin West House. The argument that flexibility means destruction is not tenable. We had the flexibility to demolish Trotter, rather than preserving and renovating it at great expense, but we chose the latter course.
Mark wrote: "The question of the hotel/restaurant complex remains another troublesome issue in the College plan. Since the plans are so general at this point I will simply raise some questions. Is the current proposal for an 80-100 room hotel, 100-200 seat restaurant, and 300 or so space parking garage appropriate in scale for a small town the size of Swarthmore? (The numbers I have heard from Bill McNamara on the size of the complex shift back and forth.) Might not an intimately sized inn, perhaps even located in the business district center, make for a better location and better-sized facility than what is currently being proposed? Will not the impact on the Rutgers Avenue neighborhood be disastrous if the hotel/restaurant complex, with the new street patterns, attracts significant traffic and alcohol consumption that then flows back and forth through that neighborhood?"
The issue of the appropriateness of the Inn concept was discussed and debated in the Borough for the better part of two years and it ended up as a cornerstone of the Borough's revitalization report. The Mayor and the entire Borough Council support the idea. The one candidate for Council who ran on an anti-Inn platform received the lowest vote count, I believe. The College is supportive of the Borough's revitalization report and is working with the Borough to accomplish the goals within that report. The hotel plan on the table is 100 rooms and the restaurant is 100 seats (not 200); the size issue has been clarified long ago. The parking garage is approximately 200 cars (not 300), a third of which are to replace the student parking lot now on the site.
Mark writes: "Finally, the College plans to build three athletic fields on the Nether Providence side of the Crum Woods -- along with breaching the area around Crum Meadows with a span bridge to provide foot and perhaps vehicular traffic to and from the athletic fields."
As recently as February 19, 2002, Mark was once again told that the College does not have a plan to do this. As was explained above, this is an idea that will be fully tested, first within the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee. To suggest to anyone that the concept of a narrow footbridge, which is all that has ever been talked about (and is mentioned in the LUPC's document), has now become a "car bridge breaching the creek," is not responsible.
I encourage people to read the full text of the Land Use Planning Committee's report.
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