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Campus master plan addresses progressive growth

As a student you could walk from Bolt-Heyns-Timmer to the Commons in your sleep (and often did on your way to that first cup of coffee). You jogged the circle around campus every day for four years, marking your miles by the buildings you passed. You knew a complex way to get from one end of campus to the other and stay fairly dry on a rainy West Michigan day. But if you think you still know Calvin's campus like the back of your hand, you haven't visited recently.

Of course, much is the same. But tremendous changes have taken place and will continue to for the next ten years and more. A few years ago the Hekman Library and Heimenga Hall each grew by a floor. More recently, the activity of construction workers has been concentrated on the campus' west side, behind the science building. When the dust settles there, leaving two new buildings in 1999, it will begin to stir on the east side of the East Beltline.

Upon seeing the new buildings and expansions, many might conclude that Calvin's enrollment is growing. But college architect Frank Gorman says the ten-year master plan is designed to solve existing space problems, keep up with the pace of technology, and meet the needs of new and growing departments.

"The master plan is based on a cap of 4,100 students," Gorman said. "None of the plan is focused on increasing the number of students. There's a real attitude of keeping pace with the program development of the departments. This master plan has come about as a result of the progressive behavior and maturing of many departments, and a commitment to not letting the facilities lag behind."

The Engineering Department, for instance, didn't even exist as a four-year program when the original campus plans were drawn in the 1950s. The Communications Arts and Sciences faculty has grown nearly three times in number since the Fine Arts Center, its current home, was built. New technology in both engineering and communications, as well as in the sciences, has been overwhelming in the past ten years, requiring new labs and space for equipment. The sciences, engineering and communications are three of the departments that will be directly benefiting from new, state-of-the-art buildings.

But while they're fully updated, the many additions planned for the campus will fit naturally into the lay of the land and alongside the distinctive buildings designed by William Fife more than forty years ago. Gorman said planning for consistency between the older buildings and the new is important, as "style and material consistency ultimately determine how the campus is viewed." There are many questions that must be considered in the plan, Gorman said, such as "Is the campus respectable and aesthetically pleasing? Are the materials durable and do they reflect good stewardship of resources? Are the built environment and living environment intertwined?"

Gorman was brought to Calvin as full-time staff in 1997 to address these types of questions. His role is to oversee the process of creating and fulfilling the master plan, taking into consideration the commitment to the existing architectural style and the space needs of various programs.

While the master plan might be new, the concept isn't a new one for Calvin's campus. Fife created a master plan back in the 1950s and left a final revision of that plan in the 1970s. According to Gordon Van Harn, chair of the Master Plan Advisory Committee, Fife's plan has essentially been fulfilled, with some modifications. The new plan picks up where Fife's left off.

"The plan has many particle purposes, but it also allows us to be systematic about giving expression to certain values we have about the campus," Van Harn said. "For instance, maintaining the campus' natural environment is very important, and takes careful planning. With a plan, we can anticipate all of the needs then carefully apportion the land. If we went ahead and did it piece-meal, I'm afraid we would make some serious errors we'd regret in the future."

Gorman said another purpose of the master plan is to "create a picture of what Calvin can become, and inspire donors to get involved in that plan." The DeVos, Vermeer and Prince families have stepped forward thus far to generously support the four buildings named after them. Other buildings on the plan will be built as funding becomes available.

And when the plan for the next ten years is fulfilled, another will be waiting in the wings. In fact, several facilities have already been sketched into the master plan for consideration beyond the year 2010. In a sense, the plan is always in draft form, always shifting with time. Gorman said a third draft will be ready in early spring.

"A plan like this is a guide, but it's never set in stone," Gorman said. "It needs to be flexible enough to allow for more change, which is sure to happen."

Kristin Tennant Bakker is a writer for the Greystone Companies in Grand Rapids.