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Hamilton Alumni Review
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A View from College Hill

By President Joan Hinde Stewart

Built in 1792, it was moved from the foot of College Hill to its present location in 1925. Today the cottage is used ceremonially: New students matriculate there each August, and the members of Pentagon, Hamilton’s senior honorary society, meet there.

Except for its location, Kirkland Cottage has remained largely unchanged (and unheated) for two centuries, but the Hamilton campus has undergone, in just the past decade, what may be the most significant investment in its 200-year history. From the renovation and expansion of the Science Center and the Kirner-Johnson Building to the construction of the Sadove Student Center at Emerson Hall, the Charlean and Wayland Blood Fitness and Dance Center, the Little Squash Center, the Outdoor Leadership Center and the Days-Massolo Center, Hamilton has upgraded and re-equipped its academic and extracurricular buildings. New centers for the visual and performing arts are planned, with groundbreaking for the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art expected in May.

Is all this building necessary?

It is a question often asked — especially by the administration and board long before each project is undertaken. Planning for the Science Center and Kirner-Johnson renovations began with an exhaustive review of programs, pedagogy and existing classrooms, laboratories and offices, many years before blueprints were prepared. Likewise, a thorough examination of the question now being posed about the Burke Library — What is the place of an academic library in a digital world? — will shape that building’s future.

Classrooms, laboratories and studios help make possible the learning that takes place between students of exceptional promise and teachers of exceptional talent. And because we believe that at a residential college learning occurs on the athletic fields and in the residence halls and student center, these spaces, too, play important roles in a Hamilton education. The Blood Fitness and Dance Center additionally responds to a national concern about the often sedentary life of today’s youth (note: Hamilton still has a physical education requirement), and the wellness program centered in that building is part of a strategy to address rising employee health care costs.

Over time, as buildings wear out, pedagogies change and knowledge expands, our programs and physical plant must be modernized. The trend toward hands-on research by undergraduates resulted in the large number of laboratories available for students in the Science Center, just as the priority placed on student participation influenced the incorporation of horseshoe-shaped case method classrooms into the renovated Kirner-Johnson Building. Similarly, initial designs for a new theatre include flexible performing space and just 175 seats for spectators, because professors recognize the educational value of honing a production over several performances. We learn by doing, and our buildings encourage and support active, engaged learning.

In other words, the Hamilton campus is alive and always changing. John Pitarresi ’70 recently sent me a clipping from a 1939 issue of the Utica Observer-Dispatch about the construction of Alumni Gym. The excitement conveyed by the story and picture — steel girders rise wondrously without benefit of rivets and without the use of pneumatic tools that might disturb students preparing for exams — reminds us of the satisfaction we take in carefully planned and executed construction. With oversight from the Trustee Committee on Buildings, Grounds and Equipment, we have in recent years modified facilities not only to match new teaching paradigms, but also to make older buildings compliant with ADA regulations and to upgrade the systems that heat, cool and light our campus and thus reduce the College’s carbon footprint. In other cases, prudent stewardship may dictate, for reasons of cost or functionality, the decision to take down rather than renovate: Examples are the removal of North and South Courts and of the 1960s-era Dana Wing of the Science Center.

Much of the construction of the past decade addressed deficiencies in science and social science facilities. We turn our attention now to 40-year-old spaces that have become inadequate to support the creativity and imagination of our students and faculty in the arts; hence, their priority in the Bicentennial Initiatives campaign. Recent construction has been predominantly gift-funded; the arts facilities will not be an exception.

The pace of campus building will likely slow as the arts buildings are completed and we begin our third century, but the Kirkland Cottage will remain as a reminder not only of our College’s humble beginnings, but also of the vision of a man who imagined great and glorious things for those who study on this beautiful hilltop.

Cupola