Burlington College settles in at new home

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Burlington Free Press

August 26, 2011
Story By Tim Johnson
Photo by Emily McManamy

The nun's cells will become study rooms. What used to be the bishop's residential suite, overlooking Lake Champlain, will be reserved for visiting fellows. Larger rooms on lower floors will become galleries and venues for public events.

The transformation of Burlington College's new home, formerly the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese, is under way and scheduled to continue during the next year or so. For starters, the college occupies a kind of beachhead on the southern wing of the 77,000-square-foot building that's been renovated for classrooms, labs and offices.

Remodeling and restoration work on the older and more elegant northern end will give the college full use of the massive edifice on North Avenue that the college purchased last year for $10 million. The facility is much larger than the space the college occupied previously.

"This is an incredibly exciting time for Burlington College," said President Jane Sanders as she led visitors on a quick tour of the four-story building. "We have the largest incoming class we've ever had, we have found a permanent home, and we're excited to be able to grow our programs here and to be of service to the community here."

The 74 students in the entering class will join a student body of about 200at a college that plans to increase enrollment to at least 500 by the end of the decade. They'll have four new majors to choose from (including "media activism") and four new bachelor of fine arts degree programs (including "cinema studies and film production"). Also debuting this year is a "low-residency" individualized master's degree program aimed at older, mid-career professionals who, with faculty assistance, would be able to design their own curricula.

The college has another distinction that's not overlooked in its latest publicity materials: a beachfront on Lake Champlain. A photo in a promotional brochure shows two students sitting in the sand chatting, with the lake as a backdrop.

Sanders said the college has budgeted $1.2 million this year to restore and revamp the property. New boilers, lighting, air-handling equipment and mandated safety code modifications topped the initial priority list. Another $2 million will be needed to complete the makeover of the main structure and an outlying 45,000-square-foot "cottage," formerly occupied by the Howard Center, which will provide living quarters for 16 students.

The pace of the work will depend partly on how fast donations come in. The college has mounted a $6 million capital campaign that's intended to underwrite these renovations, provide scholarships and fund future improvements — including dorms to house up to 100 students.

Faculty and staff were still settling in to their new digs this week, but the transition was still a work in progress. Some of the rooms were freshly labeled — "PC lab," "Writing Center," "Student Services" — but some were not. Room 128, a storage space for film and technical equipment, bore its old sign: "Diocesan school office."

As she led visitors through building, Sanders pointed out rooms still being outfitted — here a biology lab, there an art studio; here a photo lab and darkroom, there a student lounge.

In moving out of its cramped quarters at the foot of North Street to the new campus farther up North Avenue, the college has expanded its interior learning/working space five-fold.

"Everything there was multi-purpose," Sanders said of the old building. "Here, we can design a room to meet an academic purpose. When you look at all this openness, we can do so much."

Burlington College settles in at new home