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Masterful Planning

Masterful Planning
A new round of campus development starts from the ground up

Charette photo

Sometimes planning works better than evolution.

In 1962, when Gail Bys '97 began working in the Keene Teachers College bookstore, private homes lined the city street named Appian Way. The bookstore was housed, with the College Club coffee shop, in a little brick structure built in 1959 and described by College historian James G. Smart as "the campus's best example of limited vision. … It has often been called the campus 'wart.'"

Students ate meals in Fiske Annex, played tennis in what's now Fiske Quad, and crossed Main Street to reach the library, in the building that now houses the Cheshire County Historical Society.

For years, the campus evolved gradually, Bys observes, "but lately, the last 10 years or so, it has seemed to explode, with the Student Center, Appian Way, Mason Library, Holloway. It started when they took the tennis courts up."

Jay Kahn describes that moment, in 1992, as "the Big Bang." The vice president for finance and planning since 1988, he explains the removal of the tennis courts on Fiske Quad as "a powerful change that didn't require a great deal of investment but had a lot of return to the campus.

"That space captured a standard of quality, reflected the changing size of the campus, and promoted the sense of maturity that the campus deserved."

He adds that by 1990 the aging tennis courts, with their chain-link fence, were better for posting notices than for playing tennis. "That was the campus bulletin board."

What the College needed, he says, was a master plan.

"The campus had grown in chaotic ways," Kahn explains, "moving across Winchester Street and Main Street, leapfrogging Appian Way and Wyman Way and extending to Butler Court. Between the remaining city houses and campus buildings, these weren't well-integrated neighborhoods."


Created in 1993, a master plan began to address growth systematically. Its 10-year goals included elements that now might be taken for granted as part of the KSC environment, among them: "establish an identifiable campus heart," "establish a pedestrian environment at the campus core," and "define future boundaries for the campus."

One-third of the campus lies along the Ashuelot River, but nobody really sees it.The 1993 plan has served its function well as the blueprint to guide campus development, Kahn says, but now another map is taking shape, with collaboration from across the campus – and Keene – community.

The new plan emphasizes the importance of neighborhoods, explains Kahn. "The intersection at the Student Center and Appian Way defines the nexus between the academic and student-life neighborhoods," he points out. With plans on the table for a new dining hall west of the Student Center, the fate of the current facility depends in part on how its renovation or replacement can best enhance that intersection, which Kahn considers the "heart of the campus."

"The next plan will probably define a new residential neighborhood at Bruder Street and Wyman Way," Kahn says, "including small facilities like Keddy House (331 Main St.) and Bushnell. Right now there's no anchor building that defines the neighborhood. Only 170 people living in that neighborhood is too small a number to create a sense of community. Another 250-300 beds would address the demands for more on-campus housing and add that sense of community."

Housing and other building projects must proceed, says Kahn, with a careful eye to maintaining the quality of the grounds. "One of our most important investments has been to develop a campus that's not only functional but beautiful. Physical Plant director Frank Mazzola, Bud Winsor and his grounds crew, arborist Jeff Garland, recycling coordinator Mary Jensen – they're part of a remarkably skilled and dedicated group of professionals who make this campus as attractive as it is." Kahn also credits the work of gardener Chris Feiker, whose thousands of flowering plants grow in every corner of the campus. (Chris is now recovering from a life-threatening bicycle accident that occurred last fall.)

Guiding the master planning process is KSC's Facilities Planning Advisory Committee in consultation with Saratoga Associates, an architectural, planning, and engineering firm with many years of campus development work with colleges and universities. Saratoga staff members visited Keene State for weeks at a time during 2003, mapping the territory and talking with students, faculty, and staff about how they use the campus, and how they'd like to use it.

The consultants' most visible moment occurred in early December with a "charrette" – a two-day, wide-open planning festival that saw hundreds of Keene State community members marking up charts about how they move around campus, how the campus enhances or inhibits their experience, and what changes – modest or revolutionary – they'd like to see in the KSC environment.

With elaborate charts, sketches, and PowerPoint slides created communally over the two days, the consultants summarized some of their observations, both general and specific, including:

  • The pedestrian environment must always be a high priority.
  • Blake House isn't a very good space for academic purposes.
  • The Child Development Center shouldn't be located in the center of so much other activity.
  • About 550 students live on the other side of Winchester Street. How can we diminish the risks of crossing the street?
  • One-third of the campus lies along the Ashuelot River, but nobody really sees it.
  • All growth needs to anticipate the environmental impact.
  • Parking, a headache on almost all campuses, -can be enhanced, if drivers don't expect always to park at the doors of their residence hall, office, or classroom.
  • "Elliot Hall is one of the most confusing buildings we have ever been in."
  • For Elliot, they visualize a pathway through the building, with a new entry on the Wyman Way side ("Get rid of the loading dock") and an atrium housing a mini-mall for information and services. For pedestrian enhancement, they recommend creating more connections north and south along Appian Way. For student residences, they suggest building new structures "to make the housing precinct around Brickyard Pond more whole."

Saratoga Associates also applauded the close relationship between the city and College communities but called for the Main/Winchester intersection to become "a more meaningful gateway into the City of Keene."

Peter Temple, associate professor of Technology, Design, and Safety, requires his architecture students to work with city planners and appreciates KSC's proximity to downtown. "We are really very have a classic college campus with its quiet sensibility that's just a five-minute walk to the center of Keene, with its restaurants, arts, and so on."

Temple, who serves on the Facilities Planning Advisory Committee, cautions against a trend he sees on other campuses – the pressure to lose green space in the cause of growth. "The temptation," he says, "is to pack stuff in too tightly. It happens incrementally."

The architecture professor, who has enjoyed working with the consultants in both public and private sessions, points out that strategic planning must always include the human element: "They have this whole analytical method – charts, matrices, all this data – but the creative process still needs to take place."

Despite the need for planning, Temple says, the current buildings and grounds should be a source of pride for the KSC community. "The only other campuses as nice as this," he says, "are at small private colleges."

To view the Charette Summary, go to:

The planners agree. Saratoga head planner Michael Rudden reminds his charrette audience that Keene State's plans are proceeding on a foundation of strength. "Maintain the fabric," he tells his client, seated in the person of a hundred faculty, students, and staff, "of what you already have."

Michael Matros is editor of Keene State Today.

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