The College has adorned many new buildings with the red masonry to keep the traditional feel of the campus. But it is the bricks of Fiske Hall, which are said to be made with clay taken from Brickyard Pond when it was an active brickyard in the early 20th century, that have some of the oldest stories to tell.
Fiske Hall was built in 1914 and named in honor of progressive educator Catherine Fiske, who operated her Young Ladies Seminary in Keene during the early 19th century. (The school was in the 1805 Bond house, now the KSC President's House.) Fiske Hall was the first building at the College that allowed students to live on campus rather than room with families in town. Over the years, Fiske became a historic marker, the campus grande dame overlooking the Quad.
In January of 2007, renovations began both inside and outside the hall to ensure that the distinguished building could continue as a vital part of the campus community.
Fiske is a popular hall to live in because of the sense of community that thrives there. Students seem to form memories that last well beyond transfers or graduation, even if they live there for only a short time. Over the years, alumni have posted fund-raising requests to the Class Notes section of this magazine, expressing their fervent wishes that the renovations would restore Fiske to its former glory.
Bob Lofquist was a residence assistant in Fiske from 1983-84 before he transferred out to complete his degree in psychology. He had lived in Randall Hall, considered a "new" residence hall on campus in the 1980s, during his first year at Keene State because he and many others thought living in a newer hall would be better.
After a year in Randall, he had a change of heart about the older halls.
"A lot of people who lived in Carle, for example, would come hang out in Fiske because it was a warmer and more comfortable, intimate atmosphere," Lofquist said. "I heard several people refer to the sterility of Carle, or that nobody knew each other in Randall the way people did in Fiske. I think (Fiske's) relatively small size helped with this."
He remembers students gathering in the Great Hall to watch soap operas during the afternoon, lines to get a shower in the morning, noisy radiators, and "cryptic" personal messages in the hall newsletter. The hall housed approximately 100 students then, a relatively small number, and Lofquist said it was easy to spot fellow "Fiskies" on campus because you knew everyone who lived in the hall.
Fiske got even cozier with the 2007 renovations. Bill Sudsbury, who is the clerk of the works for the University System of New Hampshire, said Fiske now houses 87 freshmen. Compared to the more recent residence halls – One Butler Court with 253 students, and Pondside III with 157 – Fiske sounds downright homey.
Director of Residential Life and Housing Kent Drake-Deese said the hall's size lends itself to smaller learning communities, as do the improved common areas in Fiske. The third floor of Fiske is now the home to residential students in the new Honors program, and other areas of the building house a language and culture community and a First-Year Leadership program.
Drake-Deese graduated from St. Lawrence University in New York, where he experienced that school's First-Year Program as a student and as a residence assistant. "Having been a student and then a staff member, I received a comprehensive perspective on how intentional programming can influence the development of community," he said, for first-year students in particular.
At least one resident has taken the time to praise the direction taken for the Fiske communities.
Journalism major Corey Smith wrote a commentary for The Equinox, the student paper, within a month of living in the hall and meeting other students in the Honors community. His writing revealed the usual trepidation felt by first-year students, but also the friends he found within the first days of arriving at Keene State, who helped to make the transition less stressful. All Honors students accepted to the College were given housing in Fiske, he said, but simply being an Honors student isn't enough to build a community.
"In what other place," he wrote, "does the majority of the floor hang out in the common room reading, playing guitar, racing, or just being really loud? I cannot believe how wonderful my transition to college has been, knowing that I live in a place that is practically as comfortable and peaceful as my house itself."
Each floor organizes its own activities, and students in specific communities have a common interest to connect with, but that hasn't caused further splits in the hall community so far. Students from the Wellness, Honors, Language, and Leadership communities go to dinner together, according to Smith; they take over the Quad for Ultimate Frisbee almost on a daily basis, and they gather in the Great Hall to watch movies. Hopefully, all first-year students will continue to reap the benefits of the community that seems to thrive in Fiske, no matter what.
A physical addition that may have helped bring the hall community closer together is the bridge that now spans the Great Hall on the second floor. Students living on the second floor now will never know what it was like to have to go down a flight of stairs, walk through the Great Hall, and go up the opposite flight of stairs to get from one wing of Fiske to the other. A quick walk across the bridge not only gets students from one wing to the other without breaking a sweat, but it also allows for a grand view of the Great Hall and a closer look at the period replication of the plaster cornice that frames the ceiling.
There was some objection to the introduction of a bridge on the second floor. Lofquist and other alumni were afraid the structure would detract from the historic look and feel of the Great Hall and interrupt the visual line of the ceiling and cornice. But student focus groups to gather input about proposed renovations in the hall supported the addition to improve access between the wings.
"Like anything else at KSC, students had a lot of input in what they wanted to see in the building," Sudsbury said.
Vice President for Finance and Planning Jay Kahn was involved in the student focus groups. He cochaired the Fiske renovation committee with Vice President for Student Affairs Corinne Kowpak and said that the bridge also provides definition between the Great Hall and a study space on the first floor, which is kept separate by a glass divider. When a larger community space is necessary, students can slide the glass divider into pocket doors so the Great Hall can be used to its full potential as a community space.
Community spaces are only part of what makes a residence hall a comfortable place to live, however, and there were some distinct challenges to the hall renovations.
"While the sense of community was strong," Kahn said, "there were elements that made (Fiske) a less desirable place to live."
For years, students were used to rolling out of bed in the morning, literally. Loft-style beds, where a desk is tucked underneath a raised platform bed, were the default room arrangement in Fiske because the room sizes were so small, it was the only way to fit students and all of their belongings into the space. There was only two feet of clearance between the mattress and the ceiling, so it was roll out of bed or hit your head. Room dimensions were increased as much as the building structure would allow, so now students don't have to go with the loft-style arrangement.
New windows were installed throughout the residence hall. Sudsbury said their style remains true to the historic look of the building, but the windows were chosen with energy efficiency in mind. New plumbing in the shower rooms also meet energy-efficiency standards, and Fiske now has an energy recovery unit and air return/exchange to help keep energy costs down. The old radiators were replaced with low profile heating, and each room has a thermostat that gives students limited control over the heat in their space. An equally important part of building renovations was updating the wiring so students can have all of the latest Internet, phone, and cable connections.
Returning students may notice that the bricks of Fiske look redder, thanks to a good power washing. The slate roof is not such a mottle of grays and greens, and the cupola doesn't lean ever so slightly to the side. A new main entrance and an accessibility ramp are visible from Fiske Quad, and these lead right into the Great Hall inside the building.
Staff in the business office finally returned to their Fiske home in the annex on the north side of the building to find skylights brightening up their space.
"It was a tasteful renovation in that it preserved the historic look of Fiske, but brought it right into the 21st century to meet student needs," said Sudsbury.
It's difficult to say what changes another 93 years of community will bring. But the Fiske Hall renovations have helped to ensure that one of Keene State's landmarks will be a symbol of the College's success for the Centennial and beyond.
Great Hall, centerpiece of the renovation, was gutted last winter, and support structure for the pedestrian bridge spanning the east and west wings was put in place. The large Palladian window on the south end was replaced with three round-top windows.
Construction of the three round-top windows on the south façade.
Replacing brick and trim on the south gable end.
Brickwork on a new door frame.
Students living on the second floor now will never know what it was like to have to go down a flight of stairs, walk through the Great Hall, and go up the opposite flight of stairs to get from one wing of Fiske to the other.
Cupola restoration (the new cupola is a component of the building's ventilation system).
Installing new roof slates and snow arrestors, plus pre-patinaed copper flashing.
Keene State's history is in a brick. Genuine Keene Brick from Brickyard Pond, washed and unwashed.
Forms for the new ramp, which makes the first-floor common space accessible to all.
Students use the new pedestrian bridge over the Great Hall as a shortcut and as a place to socialize.
The finished and furnished Hall lacks the old-fashioned parlor palms of the original, but is as welcoming as home.
Rory Brennan and his Preservation Plaster crew from Putney, Vt., spent two months removing the original plaster moldings and cornices, making templates from them, and painstakingly recreating and adapting plasterwork to fit the new room. The meticulous work frames the entire ceiling of Great Hall.
Many Hands Helped Renovate Fiske
It took hundreds of hands thousands of hours to renovate Fiske Hall. The College would like to extend special thanks to:
- Engleberth Construction of Keene: Brad Walker, project manager, and Greg Girouard, construction supervisor
- Lavallee-Brensinger Professional Association, Manchester, architects: John Harper, project architect, and Fred Urtz, managing partner
- Rist-Frost-Shumway Engineering, Laconia: Chris Shumway and Phil Whitton
- And to a host of skilled subcontractors from the region, including Rory Brennan and Preservation Plaster of Putney, Vt., for work on the cornice in the Great Hall; Bill Coutts Construction, Marlborough, site work; Northeast Masonry, Pelham, masonry work; Al Melanson Co., Keene, roofing; Capital Tile and Marble, Bow, ceramic tile; S&S Painting, Swanzey, interior painting; Stromgren Plumbing & Heating, Keene, plumbing and HVAC; and F. H. Hamblett, Keene, electrical work. Many others also helped in this effort, and we extend appreciation for a job well done.
At Keene State, Vice President for Finance and Planning Jay Kahn, Vice President for Student Affairs Corinne Kowpak, Residential Life Director Kent Drake-Deese, Assistant Director of Residential Life Jim Carley, and Director of Physical Plant Frank Mazzola helped guide the project from start to finish. Mary Ann Gaal, manager of capital construction for USNH, and Bill Sudsbury, clerk of the works for USNH, were essential to the project's success.