Construction: If colleges aren’t paying attention to their facilities, why would the students?

David O'Connor//June 21, 2017

Construction: If colleges aren’t paying attention to their facilities, why would the students?

David O'Connor//June 21, 2017

Just like you wouldn’t hang the Mona Lisa in your garage, you shouldn’t want top-notch professors teaching in a building where the plumbing doesn’t work or allow students to live in dorms that were old when their parents went to the same school.

Renovating existing facilities and building new construction can distinguish a school from its competitors, said David Proulx, who is Franklin & Marshall College’s vice president for finance and administration as well as its treasurer.

“It does help quite a bit, in terms of our brand, and also in getting the word out that Franklin & Marshall is making an investment not just in its facilities but also in its people, to help us to ultimately deliver a high-quality education,” he said.

F&M, one of the more selective liberal-arts colleges in the U.S., since 2004 has undertaken no less than 27 major capital projects, at a cost of more than $100 million to renovate or build new facilities at its northwestern Lancaster City campus. Along with the rejuvenation of the neighborhood near F&M in recent years, the result is a campus that sells the college to prospective students.

“We need to make sure we’re competitive in the higher education market, particularly among the liberal-arts colleges, and students, among many things, are looking at the facilities that we offer,” Proulx continued. “So we need to make sure that we are taking our resources and investing them wisely. That will allow us to attract the best and brightest students.”

The building program of recent years “has allowed us to be more competitive for those top students as well as the highest-caliber faculty and staff,” he said.

Projects have ranged from a new 188-bed residence hall (College House) and a new Office for Student and Postgraduate Development, which this year moved into F&M’s former infirmary at the center of campus, to the new Shadek Stadium, a 2,500-seat, $16 million facility for football and lacrosse set to open this fall.

It’s clear across higher education that “students more and more are going to expect buildings that are going to be attractive, and they’re going to want buildings that make them feel, more and more, like a part of things,” said Dominic DelliCarpini, dean of York College’s Center for Community Engagement and also a college writing studies professor.

DelliCarpini said this while seated in his office in the CCE, a building at 59 E. Market St. in downtown York, that once housed York’s Lafayette Club. The college is turning it into a hub for its outreach to the greater York community, and DelliCarpini is hopeful the building and what takes place inside it will attract students.

The CCE aims to team York College with government and nonprofit organizations “to promote research, service, and economic development initiatives,” according to the college webpage.

Recently, it hosted an event for about 80 people, “and that’s what the space is designed to be, filled with people thinking about important things,” DelliCarpini said.

No matter where the buiding is, whether on York College’s suburban campus or in the city, “we always start the conversation with the architects about what’s going to happen in that space,” he continued. “Every space we build on campus, whether it’s learning space or athletic space, is built imagining how students are going to use it. When you do that, and then you show prospective students those spaces, and they actually see people using those spaces, that’s when they come to life.”

Spending money on building improvements tells prospective students and their parents, “Here’s an institution that has invested in making sure they’re moving in the right direction for us,” added Brian Hazlett, Millersville University’s vice president of student affairs and enrollment management.

They’ll likely view the top-notch facilities as vehicles “to prepare them for the types of experiences they’ll have when they set foot off the campus” as graduates, Hazlett said.

Amy Spangler

Millersville is completing its new Lombardo Welcome Center for would-be students and families, a facility that is “going to be an extension into the community,” Hazlett said, “and one more effort to draw in not just the Lancaster community, but communities outside the area as well.”

Set to open in November, it is the state university’s first “net-zero energy building,” meaning it will produce as much energy as it consumes in the course of a year, the university said.

The new 15,000-square-foot facility is the last step in a “major” renovation on MU’s campus over the last five years, Hazlett said, an effort that has included the renovation of one of its central buildings, Gordinier Hall and Conference Center, and three new residence halls.

The work was the largest construction effort in university history, MU officials said.

Said Hazlett, “We’ve listened to the students. We’ve put things in place that have been based on not only demand, but also on what the students are expressing to us as their needs,” Hazlett said, citing a renovated workout space and gym at the university’s Student Memorial Center that had opened in 2010: “If you walk through that buiding, there’s very little space that’s for ‘administration.’ Most of that space in the building is for students.”

A top official at Lebanon Valley College finds that “prospective students and their families are looking for high-quality academic programming and career preparation above all else.”

Michael Green, LVC vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty, cites buildings like the college’s $20 million Arnold Health Professions Pavilion, set to open in 2018. It will house LVC academic programs related to the health professions, such as physical therapy speech-language pathology and athletic training.

The new facility will allow LVC to educate and train future professionals for a sector projected to add five million new U.S. jobs by 2022, an article on LVC’s webpage said, and Green expects it to “support significant gains in enrollment within the health professions.”

Messiah College is completing a fitness center, which a college official said is the first true fitness center in Messiah’s history, this August. It also is beginning construction on the Ralph S. Larsen Finance Lab for a new finance major the college is offering in its business department.

The additions are some of the results of a master plan taking an overall look at Messiah’s buildings that was completed a year ago, said Kathie Shafer, the Mechanicsburg institution’s vice president for operations.

Such additions can definitely be a recruiting help, she said, since high-school students often come from first-rate labs and classrooms. And a new fitness center provides amenities to students who “want to feel like this is home, and they can do some of the things that they do at home,” Shafer said.