In front a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and alumni on the patio of Sharples, President Valerie Smith announced a major renovation of the dining hall, one that will meet the needs of the current student body and provide a dedicated space to foster relationships and build community.
Approved in May by the Board of Managers, the renovation will be funded in large part by a gift made in 2013 by Giles “Gil” Kemp ’72 and Barbara Guss, who attended the announcement event. That $7 million gift, made through the Barbara and Gil Kemp Foundation and originally earmarked for renovation of student space in Clothier Hall, now totals more than $9 million and continues to grow from investments made by the College. “Sharples will be expanded to serve the needs of our growing student body and will include a central commons dedicated to fostering relationship-building and co-curricular activity,” Smith said.
Kemp, a member of the Board of Managers and chair of the comprehensive campaign Changing Lives, Changing the World, made the initial Clothier gift with Guss to support enhanced community spaces—a priority of Strategic Directions, the College’s 2011 strategic plan. However, through the campus visioning exercise that took place in 2015, the community identified Sharples as a more pressing project, to address both the dining and social needs of students. The Sharples project officially became part of the “Vital Spaces” goal of Changing Lives, Changing the World, and Kemp and Guss were happy to redirect their gift. “Swarthmore is so near and dear to my heart,” Kemp addressed the crowd. “I thrived here, and I want to see all of you thrive here. It’s a joy for me to make a difference, to give back to this place.”
The project will bring to life students’ vision for a dining hall that offers greater food choices, shorter lines, and a new student center to replace the former one in Old Tarble, lost to fire in 1983. President Smith said in her remarks, “Our students have requested—and need—a reimagined dining experience here at Swarthmore. A place where together they can share a meal, foster relationships, and, most importantly, build a community.”
Sharples, built in the 1960s, was designed to accommodate 900 students. Today, 1,400 students can pass through during a typical mealtime. The lack of infrastructure to meet current needs results in long wait times for students that often leads to rushed eating or skipping meals entirely. And, because there is no dedicated, non-academic, adequately resourced student center on campus, the Sharples project will address that need as well.
The Dining Hall and Community Commons Space Programmatic Committee, chaired by Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano, formed in February to begin the work of envisioning how to bring a revitalized dining hall and central commons space to the heart of campus. “We are committed to creating an environment where our students, faculty, and staff not only live, learn, and work, but also thrive in each of these endeavors,” Coschignano wrote in an email to the campus community last spring. Over the next year and a half, the committee will continue to meet to offer recommendations on space needs and operational requirements. They will also partner with dining consultants to gather community feedback, create a master dining plan, and assist in the design and building process. The search for an architectural firm has begun, with a selection to occur mid-to-late fall.
Kemp likened the reimagined Sharples to a rising phoenix. “Buildings grow older. Student bodies grow larger," he said. "What works in one era may not work in another, and Swarthmore must be nimble in responding to change.” Guss acknowledged that this gift allows Swarthmore to do just that. “We have confidence our gift will be transformational, not just to the physical campus,” she said addressing the crowd, “but to your experience as members of this community.”
Gil Kemp has served on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers since 2003, including as chair from 2012–2015. He is currently the chair of the Development and Communications Committee. He received his BA in sociology from Swarthmore and MBA from Harvard. Kemp, who lives in Florida, was the founder and president of Home Decorators Collection and spent many years working in direct marketing for publishers such as Bantam Books and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. He is the co-author of Dale Carnegie: The Man Who Influenced Millions (St. Martin’s Press, 1999). In addition to his volunteer work for Swarthmore, Kemp has been actively involved in the nonprofit Scholarship Program to Enhance Literacy and Learning (SPELL) which works to prevent young students in Vietnam from dropping out of school.
A retired Manhattan prosecutor who was once in charge of federally funded community crime reduction programs, Barbara Guss has a long history of philanthropic and civic work. She served on the Occidental College Board of Trustees and on the Scarsdale Board of Education, including as president. She has also served on the boards of Scarsdale Synagogue-Tremont Temple and the Overhill Neighborhood Association. Currently she is a member of the board of Metropolitan Opera and Yale Alumni College.