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Replacing Scribner Village

The $42 million project in the making

Editorial Editor

Published: Friday, October 15, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 01:10

Scribner Replacement Rendering 2

Courtesy of Michael West/QPK Design

In 1973, the college built Scribner Village as an experiment to gauge student response to apartment-style on-campus living. Three decades later, the 15 wood-frame apartments still stand. But with the aid of trustee donations and the spur of a rapidly growing student population, members of the college community will soon see the culmination of the college's decades-long advances in on-campus apartment living.

At the helm of the project stands QPK Design, the architecture firm responsible for designing Northwoods Apartments. Contingent on approval by the Board of Trustees and the city of Saratoga Springs, the first phases of the $42 million Scribner Village Replacement Project could begin to appear by next fall.

Trustee donations made the project possible, with a $12 million donation from the Sussman family, who also gave aid to the construction of the Murray-Aikens Dining Hall. An additional $5.5 million donation from an anonymous trustee moved the project forward. "These are what's permitting us to start the project and begin it in a serious way," said Mike West, the college's vice president for Finance and Administration.

With help from a college task force representing the voices of students, faculty and staff, QPK architects created a three-pronged plan that provides short-term solutions to dorm overcrowding and large-scale improvements to on-campus apartment living.

The three phases of their design include additions to Northwoods Apartments, the creation of new slope-side apartments intended as dorm alternatives for sophomores and a complete reconstruction of Scribner Village apartments, with eventual demolition of all of the current structures.

"The major comment we received was to build the maximum number of beds that we could while creating accommodations that could result in the best possible living in Scribner," said Eugenia Brieva, one of QPK's leading architects on the project. Brieva and her colleagues intend to tear down the existing structures and replace them with ones built with an eye toward sustainable planning and long-lasting construction, all without leaving any student without housing during the construction period.

To make this possible, two 56-bed slope-side apartment buildings will house more students outside of Scribner Village. "These are four-story buildings, but the lowest levels are kind of buried into the hillside," architect Paul Vaivoda said. "These are two-unit apartments: one accessed from the low side, and one from the campus side."

With a single bedroom on the first floor of each unit and four more above, the five-person apartments would also include a kitchen, living room and dining area. Based on the responses of about 700 students who participated in a 2008-2009 survey, the architects also included in-building laundry facilities and bicycle racks in their plans. These facilities hold a tentative date of completion for fall of 2012.

In an initial design revealed last fall, the architects discussed more large-scale slope-side apartments. But when they brought their designs before the college, administrators raised aesthetic and environmental concerns.

"The steep slope apartments weren't going to work. We would have demolished so many trees," said Don Hastings, director of Residential Life. "It would have been scorched earth."

QPK went back to the drawing board, presenting a fresh design on a smaller scale. The new concept led administrators and architects to consider how these apartments might serve as alternative living options for sophomore students seeking a little more self-sufficiency.

"These two buildings are really very close to campus and have five-person units, whereas in the rest of the project, we have four-bedroom units," Brieva said. "The idea was to try to complement the sophomore accommodations, in a less-independent living situation than the students who occupy Northwoods and Scribner."

Already, Hastings said his office is considering programming opportunities for these sophomore apartments, with prospective models including a sophomore extension of the First-Year Experience or a return to the pre-FYE structure of "theme houses," based around student commonalities including substance-free housing, multicultural interests or honors designations. Hastings said consideration of an exclusively sophomore apartment complex also raises new logistical concerns surrounding meal plan structures and extensions of the college's alcohol and drug policies.

For the juniors and seniors who will still operate as Scribner Village's primary residents, the QPK architects placed an emphasis on preserving the current apartments' community spirit in the new design. "One of the things that students liked most about the actual Scribner Village is the feeling of social interaction," Brieva said.

For the new plan, the architects disregarded the current units' row organization and instead arranged apartments in a circle, with all entrances feeding out of a central park at the community's center.

"In the nature of bringing these buildings closer together, there's an intimacy and more of a connection with your neighbor," Vaivoda said. "We thought it would only reinforce this sense of community."

As they did in Northwoods Apartments, the architects split the four-person apartments through a mix of ground entrances and entryway stairs. But the new Scribner Village apartments, like those they replace, boast larger kitchen, living and dining areas. In an echo of the current apartments' popular back porches, the new design adds outdoor patios for each townhouse. "We want students to take advantage of the space and use it, not just have it as a view," Brieva said.

The architects' work with the college's task force also led them to try to capture what they perceived as the spirit of the Skidmore student in their new Scribner Village designs. "We recognized that the dynamics of the students are of a very active nature," she said. "Part of the idea is to go away from the concept of a box with holes, that's your house."

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