Dickinson College officially opened its first completely new dorm since 1972 on Friday, and as one might expect, designs have changed a bit since Richard Nixon was in office.
Gone are the narrow hallways laid out in perfect blocks, along with the perfectly symmetrical rooms and the massive group bathrooms, designed to pack as many students in as possible per square foot.
Rather, Dickinson’s new student residence on the corner of Conway and West High streets in Carlisle is remarkably low density, housing 129 students in a structure of roughly 40,000 square feet. The hallways are wide, with nooks and alcoves furnished with midcentury-style furniture for students to socialize and study, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
“At the end of each straightaway in the hallways there’s a window, which is by design,” said Ken Shultes, Dickinson’s associate vice president for sustainability and facilities planning.
“We wanted there to be as much open space and natural light as possible,” Shultes said. “Students have told us they like to have study space and gathering places in the dorms. They don’t want to feel confined to their rooms.”
As Carlisle residents toured the just-completed facility on Friday night, many remarked at the stark, modernist design with white walls and high, arid ceilings that gave off a vibe much different than the typical college aesthetic.
Another major change from the dorm rooms of yore is the use of unisex, gender-inclusive bathrooms, giving students more privacy and comfort. Single-occupancy bathrooms, each containing its own sink, shower and toilet, are spread out through each floor.
“It is a little less space-efficient, but it was clearly the way to go,” Shultes said. “Students really prefer, as I think most people do, to have private bathroom spaces.”
Dickinson has tried to stay ahead of the curve in both student needs and energy efficiency, with the new residence hall featuring the latest technology to achieve what Dickinson expects to be platinum status in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building standards.
It’s the details that count. Even the countertops in the kitchens are made from a recycled plastic compound, and the landscaping around the building is done largely with shrubs and mulched rain gardens, as opposed to grass that has to be constantly mowed and fertilized.
“We’ve tried to move away from just turf and trees. The rain gardens are much more efficient,” Shultes said.
The new building will be occupied with upperclassmen — no freshmen — who are scheduled to move in just before classes begin on Labor Day.
Most importantly, the additional capacity will allow Dickinson to enforce its residency requirement, announced last year, that will bring roughly 100 students back into college-owned housing who would otherwise be leasing spaces from third-party landlords around Carlisle.
The college has also done extensive renovations to its existing dorms and housing stock over the past several years, Shultes said, but there are no plans for additional residential space.
The new residence hall is the final piece of a capital improvement plan that saw the college build the Durden Athletic Training Center, a sports field and a greenhouse, along with expansions to the Kline Center and Rector Science Complex.
But another phase of capital improvement is in the works, with renovations to the Holland Union Building and Allison Hall in the planning stages.