Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Neighbors not psyched for Weitz extension

<lass="page section layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

“It’s our baldspot,” said Jerri Hurlbutt ’76, president of the Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association (NESNA). “It’s the neighborhood’s baldspot.”

Hurlbutt is referring to Central Park, which many Northfield community members currently feel is threatened by the upcoming addition to the Weitz Center.

The addition, made possible through a recent $20 million donation from the Weitz family, will house the entire music department, three rehearsal spaces, practice rooms, faculty offices and teaching studios, and an impressive 400 seat performance hall to replace the Concert Hall.

The addition plans, however, raise numerous questions for Northfield residents, including concerns about parking and access, lighting at night, noise during and after construction, and building imprint, particularly in relation to the park.

Last Tuesday night, the college hosted a community open house in the Larson Meeting Room to hear these concerns and share the Weitz addition plans, as well as the plans for the new science building and the remodeling of Scoville Hall and Johnson House.

Several posters detailing blueprints and future renditions lined the peripheries of the room, and about twenty Northfield residents milled about, speaking with facilitators such as Dean of Admissions Paul Thiboutot, Director of Facilities Steven Spehn, Director of Arts Steven Richardson, and Treasurer Fred Rogers.

Listening to conversations about the new addition, one was as likely to hear the words “lovely” and “beautiful,” as “disgusting” and “offensive.”

Carleton History Professor and 4th Street resident Cliff Clark felt that the addition’s red brick “looks to me like it’s going to fit much better” with the backside of the Weitz than the existing “square block.” Clark used to be the chairman of the school board when the Weitz was a middle school, and was on the committee that sold the building to Carleton.

But his wife Grace Clark worried about the height of the building and the “odd square boxes” on its top. The addition plans and renditions reveal a “mechanical penthouse”a large, dark hat on the addition that will house mechanical equipment.

Facilitators assured residents that the addition will be no taller than the existing Weitz Center, but the main issue with the building’s height stems from the shadow it will cast on Central Park.

“While it seems to have been designed with as much sensitivity to the park, it is the scale…it’s going to cast a shadow, on the park, when it’s sunny, all the time. It’s an encroachment,” said Hurlbutt. “Carleton’s building is, through light, trespassing on Central Park.”

Community members also expressed concern that the addition will go right up to the property line on fourth street, occupying space that is currently grassy and open, with very little setback between the new concert hall and the park.

An architect from HGA, the firm that designed the original Weitz center and the addition, explained that in order to keep the “volume” of the building to a minimum, they had to “build up.”

The architect also emphasized that the firm worked hard to make the addition mesh with both the modern front and the traditional back of the Weitz.

“The college isn’t interested in building some big, ugly thing. We want it to feel good, too,” said Joe Hargis, Associate VP of External Relations. “We really do feel that the [Weitz] facility is a community asset, and the performance hall will be as well.”

Some neighbors, indeed, are excited about the addition and the programs it will offer. “I know there are some people who are absolutely thrilled about this,” Hurlbutt said. She specified that her views are hers alone, and NESNA itself has not taken a single stance on the addition. Hurlbutt goes to the Weitz center all the time and plans to go to the performances in the new hall. But the programs are not the problem. In some ways, the problem actually runs deeper than these specific concerns with the addition, and the concerns are merely symbolic of a larger tension between the community and the college.

According to Hurlbutt, in the past 10 to 20 years, the college has purchased a series of residential properties in the community, and “the neighborhood basically kind of shrunk back” in response. She senses that this history, in combination with the building of the Weitz and the now, the new addition, have contributed to a “sense that the college can basically just come in and do what it wants.”

Construction on the addition is planned to begin this spring and finish by the fall of 2017. The building will be done “probably a year or two earlier” than expected, according to Daniel Bergeson from auxiliary services, because the funding for it is now available.

Because the addition will be large enough to house the entire music department, Parish House will not become a music facility, contrary to the plans outlined in the 2014 Facilities Master Plan. The current Music Hall will be repurposed for other academic needs, and the concert hall and arena theater will be torn down in favor of green space.


Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *