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Singer Hall at night

Changing Lives, Changing Landscapes

Four new vital spaces epitomize Swarthmore’s goal of educating the whole student

An obsolete observatory. Scant community spaces. Insufficient research labs. 

These are among the infrastructure challenges that Swarthmore has faced in the past 30 years. In response, the Board of Managers included in the 2011 strategic plan a commitment to “creating a campus where buildings and infrastructure support the strength of the academic program and increase opportunities to enhance community.” 

Less than a decade later, the College has made significant headway in meeting this goal, transforming both the campus and the student experience through a series of capital projects to renew and enhance existing buildings and to augment the campus environment with carefully integrated new construction. 

“Over the past several years, the capital projects team, partnering with campus planners, architects, engineers, and service delivery consultants, has collaborated in evaluating both the current and anticipated needs of the campus community,” says Jan Semler, director of capital planning and project management. 

The four following projects represent Swarthmore’s changing landscape and steadfast commitments to educating the whole student, to achieving carbon-neutrality by 2035, and to maintaining the physical plant. They are also united by the generosity of alumni and parents dedicated to creating vital campus spaces as part of the Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign. 

“Informed by the College’s strategic plan and best practices for environmental sustainability,” says Semler, “Swarthmore has engaged in a series of capital projects to renew and enhance existing buildings and to augment the campus environment with carefully integrated new construction.”


Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center 

Normally, a person looks through a telescope to see the sky, not the other way around. But on a clear day in July 2017, it was hard to miss the enormous telescope hovering above Sproul Hall, plucked out by a giant crane. Removing the telescope — which was on its way to a second life at a science education nonprofit in Arkansas — marked the beginning of Sproul’s transformation into an expanded Intercultural Center. 

The cavernous observatory dome, aptly called the Dome Room, is now used for campus workshops, meetings, and events. It was the site of the 2018 celebration dedicating the building to James Hormel ’55, H’09 and Michael Nguyen ’08, whose generous gift made the renovation possible.

At the event, Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton called the Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center “the result of years of campuswide conversations about the need to develop and improve communal spaces, to enhance opportunities for informal gatherings and conversation as well as creative collaboration.” The building houses 23 student groups under the auspices of the Intercultural Center, the International Student Center, and the Interfaith Center, including the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. These groups offer dozens of programs and trainings around issues of identity, counsel nondomestic students, and provide pastoral care.



The Matchbox fitness and wellness center overlooks the Crum Woods, not far from the new, award-winning PPR Apartments. It was funded in part by a challenge gift from matchbox couple Barbara Klock ’86 and Salem Shuchman ’84, chair of the Board of Managers.

Before the Matchbox opened in 2014, student-athletes and others worked out at the cramped Mullan Indoor Tennis and Fitness Center. Today, the Matchbox offers seven times more space, and Mullan has been repurposed to meet specific Garnet Athletics training needs.

The Matchbox supports student-athletes, too, but it is open to all members of the community. It boasts state-of-the-art exercise equipment; an open space that accommodates group exercise classes, campus meetings, and events; and a rehearsal and classroom space for the Department of Theater.  

The building stands on the site and foundation of the former squash courts. By preserving the original concrete retaining wall, the College saved nearly 28 tons of material from going into a landfill — just one of several sustainable reuse features
of the building. 


Maxine Frank Singer Hall 

In response to a 40% increase in students enrolled in biology, engineering, and psychology from 2000 to 2016, the College committed to creating a new home for these three departments. That home, Maxine Frank Singer Hall, is one of very few science buildings named for a woman on an American college campus, thanks to the family of the late Eugene Lang ’38, H’81, the project’s lead benefactor. Singer, a pioneering molecular biologist, graduated from Swarthmore in 1952 with high honors in chemistry and biology.

Singer Hall is the manifestation of an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to the sciences at Swarthmore. Phase 1 opened to classes in fall 2019, with Phase 2 scheduled to be completed in fall 2020.

“It’s where interdisciplinarity among biology, engineering, and psychology students will create innovative solutions to problems that the world faces,” says Carr Everbach, professor of engineering and faculty coordinator of environmental studies. For example, biology and psychology students are studying the relationship between the physical brain and behavior. 

Engineering students focusing on robotics and machine learning are aligning with biology majors studying animal communication and social network theory. From neuroscience to environmental studies, Singer Hall will connect the natural sciences and engineering in the most technologically advanced and sustainable ways. 

Singer Hall’s surrounding exterior will feature four regional landscape typologies within the Delaware River watershed, supporting pedagogical goals and the Scott Arboretum’s aim of promoting plants that thrive in our region. Stormwater runoff will be handled through surface and subsurface structures, and students will be able to monitor the building’s energy use in real time. 


Dining and Community Commons

Inclusive social and community spaces are central to the well-being of Swarthmore students and foundational to the College’s residential-based educational experience. However, since a fire destroyed Tarble Social Center, the College has operated without a dedicated space for students to relax, socialize, and connect with one another and with faculty and staff. “If you imagine a house without a living room, it just doesn’t work,” says Laura Westley ’83, who with husband Craig Tyle ’82 was inspired to donate to the Dining and Community Commons project after recognizing the absence in son Ian ’17’s College experience. “Swarthmore without a social center is Swarthmore without a living room. You need a place for people to gather.”

For decades, Sharples Dining Hall has tried to fill that need while also serving as the College’s central dining location. But built a half-century ago for a student body that was significantly smaller than it is today, Sharples is unable to adequately fulfill either function. 

“In Sharples right now, the line is insane,” says Gidon Kaminer ’22. “You feel like you have to grab the food you like and then get the heck out of there. It contributes to this constant feeling of ‘I should be doing work right now.’”

A lead gift from Gil Kemp ’72 and Barbara Guss will help the College achieve its aspirations for the facility. Once open, the new dining hall will offer a more diverse menu, including more locally sourced foods, more plant-based options, and easier accommodations of religious, allergen-free, and other dietary restrictions. 

The space will be fully accessible, have more serving stations to reduce wait times, and offer late-night dining options. The original Sharples will become a centrally located community commons and home to the Office of Student Engagement and numerous student groups. 

The sustainability goal for the building is net-zero, meaning its energy use will equal the renewable energy it creates. Additionally, the basement will house a new geothermal plant to heat and cool the entire campus, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.