by Rebecca Berry and Lara Pfadt
Founded in 1870, Wellesley College has long been among the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country. The bucolic 500-acre campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted is dominated by Gothic and Victorian buildings, many dating to the early 20th century. The college’s 12 major residence halls are arranged in three districts.
Finegold Alexander Architects, together with Suffolk Construction, were initially engaged in late 2018 to complete selective renovations at Pomeroy Hall, a part of the historic Hazard Quad. That fast track summer work led to a series of projects, including a study for Severance Hall, review of code conditions and accessibility at Beebe Hall, renovations across the Tower Court complex, and a review of sleeping rooms across all the major halls to determine optimal capacity and increase equity. All projects are in support of the college’s efforts to address issues of deferred maintenance, life safety, accessibility, and energy use across the entire residential portfolio.
The Severance Hall study involved creating a myriad of options. This 1927 Victorian structure was considered a good exemplar for the other large halls. The hall is complex in plan, with large uninsulated roof and wall areas, and major accessibility issues due to a multi-foot elevation difference between the north and south wings of the building. Finegold Alexander looked at ways to selectively renovate the building’s historic common areas while providing new interior wall construction at the sleeping rooms to improve energy performance and accommodate a potential campus change to low-temperature water for heating – part of Wellesley’s carbon neutrality goals. The team also found that it could create small student gathering spaces and accessible open kitchenettes, and infuse the highly detailed historic living areas with appropriate technology for today’s living-learning environments, in keeping with the college’s goals for accessibility and equity across campus for all students.
Finegold Alexander continued their work with Wellesley this summer, completing selective exterior restoration work and interior renovations to the Tower Court Complex, which is comprised of Claflin, Tower and Severance Halls. The exterior scope included targeted masonry repointing, replacement of precast gable capstones, and slate roofing.
The century-old detailing of the gothic stonework and the Victorian penchant for cross gables that creates the iconic look of the Tower Court complex also creates myriad opportunities for water infiltration over time, particularly due to the effects of freeze/thaw cycles here in New England. The team assessed which areas of the building were most critical for current restoration and worked hand-in-hand with Suffolk and Salvucci Corporation to adjust scope and methods over the summer. This allowed us to completely restore the stonework at a particularly beautiful arched entry to the Tower courtyard.
While larger renovation plans stemming from the Severance Hall study at the complex have been delayed by Covid-19, Finegold Alexander looks forward to continuing to help restore and prepare Wellesley College’s iconic residence halls for the next century.
Rebecca Berry, AIA, LEED AP is principal, president and director of sustainable design, and Lara Pfadt, AIA, LEED AP is associate, sustainability strategist of Finegold Alexander Architects.