Power House to Undergo Rennovation
Issue   |   Wed, 05/01/2013 - 00:08
Courtesy of Brunner/Cott
One of the conceptual sketches provided by Brunner/Cott architects of the proposed Power House renovations. Architects will now begin drawing actual design plans.

Two weeks ago, President Biddy Martin announced plans to turn the Power House, a brick building on the College’s southeast side that once provided power to the campus, into a space on campus for student activities.

“Students came up with the idea [for a new space for student activities],” said President Martin. “I was made aware of the relative lack of space for student activities soon after I arrived at Amherst. Last Fall, the urgency of the need became even clearer. Along with other aspects of the student experience at Amherst, we made space a high priority. It was the Facilities staff that came up with the idea of using the ‘Power House.’ I found the idea very exciting and our staff in facilities pursued the idea without delay.”

Administrators hope that the renovated facility will provide an idea space for events such as dances and parties, a capella rehearsals and other live performances, catered dinners and receptions, student meetings, art exhibits, coffee house evenings, panel discussions or talks, pub nights, outdoor barbecues or picnics, movie screenings, farmers’ markets or food truck nights.

“The uses will be limited only by the constraints on students’ imagination,” President Martin said. “It is a loft space that does not lend itself to enclosed areas; the volume and openness will allow for multiple uses. I hope it will provide a gathering and event space for students that is aesthetically interesting and open to student ideas for its use.”

The building will also serve as an informal gathering space, that will be outfitted with furniture and equipment that will allow and encourage students to use it throughout the day even when there are no formal events programmed.

“The space is intended to be a flexible volume that is outfitted with the equipment that will support the anticipated uses,” said Jim Brassord, Director of Facilities. “The campus is lacking in suitable spaces for student gatherings and events. It is anticipated that the Power House will serve for a range of uses that will be complementary to other facilitates. Specifically, the Power House is not large enough to replace the Campus Center but it will fill the void created by lack of a large gathering space in Keefe. In addition, the nature of the Power House is that it has a direct connection with a hardscape plaza on the south side so this connection between indoor and outdoor space will allow for creative outdoor programming such as Food Truck night on the plaza, farmer’s markets, outdoor picnics, etc.”

The Power House’s location and south facing orientation will ensure that disruptive noise does not spill over to adjacent residential neighborhoods. The Power House, when complete, will be a blank canvas that will allow students the flexibility to design and program a range of uses.

Work will begin over the summer, with the architects designing the volume and providing the infrastructure elements such as lighting, sound and A/V equipment to support the anticipated range of uses. Over the summer and next fall the design will be brought forth for student input and feedback, though the precise mechanism for that to occur has not yet been defined. Students will also have the opportunity to provide input on the policies, procedures and processes for how the space will be managed. It is expected that after construction starts in the fall it will last six to eight months.

“The architects will solicit student input as they get to work over the next several months, but the critical period for student involvement will be the beginning of the Fall semester, when I expect there will be a student committee that helps plan the uses of the building and the processes through which its use can be planned and/or scheduled,” President Martin said.
The building was designed by one of the preeminent architectural firms of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, McKim Mead and White, who designed a number of buildings on our campus including Fayerweather Hall. The name “Power House” comes from archived drawings for this building made by the firm, and the building served as the College’s first centralized steam plant and remained in use until the sixties.

According to Brassord, the Facilities team have been evaluating the College’s property holdings and buildings over the last year in order to find a space that could address the need for a student campus space.

“The inspiration for converting the Power House came after looking at a number of successful student life buildings on other campuses, including the student center at Bowdoin which is creatively housed in a historic athletic building and has many of the same attributes as the Power House, such as exposed structure, brick and large volume,” Brassord said.

Bruner/Cott, a firm based out of Boston, was chosen to help assess if the Power House had potential for conversion to a student activity and gathering space, and have since been hired to serve as the design architect, in the hopes they will be able to create an inviting, socially vibrant space.

“We selected B/C for this exercise because their extensive experience in converting historical industrial-type spaces for new uses. In addition they have worked on a number of campuses to create student centers and performance spaces. One of their most notable projects is the development of Mass MOCA, which is a gallery for modern art located in North Adams, MA,” Brassord said. “This inspired facility has been nationally recognized for both its exhibits and creative use of an abandoned industrial mill. The Power House, albeit smaller in scale, has many similarities with the Mass MOCA building that can be leveraged to create an exciting student space.”

This is still in the early stages, with designs presented representing very preliminary sketches based on feasibility studies, rather than final designs, and administrators are still hoping to get input from students as to what they want the space to be.

“I hope you will agree that we have found a way to accommodate some of the needs that have been identified in our ongoing conversations about how to build community at Amherst,” President Martin said in her email to the school. “There are a number of others. The renovations in Keefe were a start. The Power House is another, but not the only additional step.”