Students were asked for their input on the design of a new student center last spring when members of the Middlebury administration began actively planning a complete renovation of Proctor Dining Hall’s current design. The college plans to expand the space significantly into a four-story student center and dining hall with the capacity to seat 1,200 students — surpassing Ross Dining Hall as the largest food space on campus by more than 400 seats.
The student center project is part of a larger campus transformation plan that also includes the newly renovated Christian A. Johnson Memorial Building, the first-year dorm currently in the process of being constructed next to Coffrin Hall set to open in 2025 and the planned construction of a new art museum where Battell Hall currently stands, according to David Provost, executive vice president of Finance and Administration.
Provost has taken a lead role in planning the renovation after feeling disappointed by the state of McCullough Student Center when he first arrived on campus.
“My goal is to create a space where every student feels welcomed and wants to be hanging out, because that doesn’t exist here today,” Provost told The Campus.
He noted that although the dining halls, Athletic Center and BiHall are popular places for students to spend time in at certain parts of the day, other spaces on campus lack a similar atmosphere.
“Everywhere else, you’re like, ‘Where’s the people?’” he added.
Provost noted that the cupola, or small tower on the top of the building, from the current Battell Hall will be preserved as a tribute to the estimated 20,000 students that have lived in Battell over the past 70 years. The preserved cupola will serve as a social gathering space within the new art museum.
Provost explained that the college was planning on creating accommodations for student clubs in the new student center. “You can imagine small to larger-sized meeting rooms where clubs and student groups can come together,” he said. “The vision of it is to truly create a living room where every Middlebury student feels welcome and wants to hang out.”
Provost also noted that the building will remain open during nighttime hours in response to student feedback. “The vision was to make this a very active building — think 20 hours a day. There will be a full new dining facility there, and there will also be a nighttime dining facility.”
The preliminary planning for the new building began in 2008, envisioning a complete tear-down of Proctor Dining Hall and the construction of an entirely new, 150,000 square foot student center. Recent developments, however, have resulted in planning for renovation and expansion to Proctor instead of a total reconstruction.
The location for the new student center was chosen because the current Proctor Dining Hall stands at the intersection of many dormitories and is an active spot on campus, according to Provost.
While the proposed design has changed many times, Provost said, the team working on the project is currently focusing on fundraising before they begin construction. Middlebury partnered with Philadelphia-based Voith and Mactavish Architects to create a preliminary design of the renovated structure.
The design team planning the renovation envisions the new student center as a hub for student needs on campus. Provost described how when he first arrived on Middlebury’s campus, students had to go to specific offices spread throughout campus for their various meetings and needs.
“That’s not very student-centric; that’s department-centric,” he said. “So my vision here is to create a one-stop shop where 90% of all student needs can be met.”
Provost mentioned the possibility of moving the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC), a space for first-generation students and students of color, to the new student center as an example of consolidating student needs on campus.
Jenna Abraham ’26 expressed her enthusiasm about the project, but shared some reservations about the reality of renovating Proctor and how the college is allocating its money.
“I think the renovation is a fabulous idea. However, I think there may be a lot of student outrage,” Abraham said. “One, the construction is a pain in the butt, and I personally don’t want that all four years of my time here. Two, a lot of people are calling for changes within administration, student health resources, students of color resources, and for any money to not go to those things might be controversial.”
Ellen Sosa-Pena ’26 shared her perspective on how it benefits the college to have some campus resources remain separate from the new student center, such as the AFC.
“I feel like moving [the AFC] to the student center would defeat the purpose of it. And I’d like to see more study rooms — also, that could be a place for a smaller-scale career-aid center, and tutoring also, because the [Center for Teaching and Learning] is in the library and the [Center for Careers and Internships] CCI is all the way down by Twilight. So maybe they could have some representatives in the student center.”
The planning team held a charrette, a structured way of collecting input on a project from various stakeholders, on April 27–28 2022. Members of the college community were invited to Wilson Hall and Proctor Dining Hall to view renderings of potential designs for both the exterior and interior of the new student center and share their thoughts. Students were offered sticky notes on which they wrote feedback and stuck to poster boards with potential designs on them.
Provost does not yet have an estimate for when construction will begin or be completed. “We are currently in the fundraising phase, and this year we will move to the design phase, and so we will further define the scope of what will be in there. And we’ll be soliciting student input,” he said.