College proposes major facilities upgrades to VSC board


Sam Hartley

Proposed Dibden expansion would begin at the rear of the building

The Long Range Planning Committee of the Board of Trustees for the Vermont State Colleges recently asked the college presidents to present plans for future facility needs, and four buildings on the Johnson State College campus have been suggested for major renovations.

“It was an opportunity for each of the colleges to talk about what their hopes and desires might be for the future,” said Sharron Scott, dean of administration at JSC. “We presented four different things that we wanted them to consider.”

The first building in question is Dibden Center for the Arts. It hasn’t been upgraded since it was built in 1971, and the plans for its improvement are based around an addition that would utilize the currently-empty area behind the building.

“Dibden Center for the Arts [is] really a jewel for this community and this part of the state,” said Scott, “but it needs help in terms of taking it to the next level.”

The addition would include space for a black box studio, an ensemble rehearsal space, and additional individual practice rooms. The dance studio would also be moved from McClelland Hall into this new addition, which would allow it to join its performing arts brethren in Dibden.

Willey Library and Learning Center is second on the docket for improvements, with plans for glass-walled group study spaces and a more open, collaborative environment.

Third to be proposed for renovation is McClelland Hall.

“It hasn’t been substantially upgraded in any real way since it was built in the early 1940s,” said Scott, going on to comment on the building’s outdated layout and comparing its hallways to a Holiday Inn. “Down and to the right, all you see is doors and, oh, a couple recycling bins and an old couch, and then you turn to your left and you see doors, and then you see another recycling bin… It’s not a very welcoming environment.”

With the dance studio slated for relocation to Dibden, there’s some free space to play with in the plans for McClelland’s renovations. The main intention would be to open up the floor plan and give the building a friendlier and more modern layout, and to possibly create lab spaces for the departments that are mainly housed there.

Finally, the athletic field would be looking at a fairly substantial upgrade in the form of artificial turf to replace the current grass field and the creation of a mini-stadium, which would house stadium-style seating, a press box, and other miscellany such as storage. There are also plans to add a proper track that would surround the turf field, which would allow the college to expand its track and field program.

The budget for the project is estimated to be in the area of $14 to $17 million dollars, with the largest portion going toward the addition to Dibden, but Scott says that without architectural and structural analyses or engineering studies, those numbers are no more than estimates based on similarly-sized projects done in the past.

“[The estimates] kind of give you an idea of the order of magnitude,” said Scott, “but they should never be used for significant planning purposes.”

In addition to state funds allotted to the VSC for such projects, JSC would be looking into help from donors and alumni to get these renovations off the ground.

As exciting and beneficial as these renovations sound, there is currently no timeline for when they might be implemented. However, a similar conversation with the board of trustees about 12 years ago resulted in renovations to Stearns Hall, SHAPE, Dewey Hall, Bentley Hall, and the Visual Arts Center.

“The fact that the board is asking for these kinds of things is a really encouraging sign,” said Scott.