Bulldozers, jackhammers and heavy construction: these are some of the sights and sounds Lehigh students have become accustomed to during the first few weeks of the semester.
The construction of buildings like SouthSide Commons and the Bridge West Residence Hall, as well as renovations to existing structures like Chandler-Ullmann Hall and the University Center, are part of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence.
Although construction is a necessary step for expansion, the demolition has encroached on the lives of the Lehigh community.
On Birkel Avenue, students are woken up at early hours by the sound of heavy construction at the site of Southside Commons. Those living in Taylor Dorm deal with the same frustration.
The Lehigh that upperclassmen came to know looked a lot different than the Lehigh they see now. The reality of Lehigh’s expansion is that current students and community members will experience the growing pains of a changing school, but might not benefit from the end product.
The iconic architecture of Asa Packer campus is one of the first features prospective students notice when they visit Lehigh. Current students don’t look twice when local high schoolers take over the front lawn to take prom photos. Showtime’s thriller “Homeland” even featured the facade of Linderman Library in an episode.
Apart from Lehigh’s aesthetic, size and accessibility, there are aspects of the university that prospective students find attractive during their college search processes.
For many, key components of the Lehigh experience are smaller classroom sizes, the ability to establish more personal relationships with faculty members and long-standing traditions. A university-wide expansion could possibly disrupt the appearance and qualities that set Lehigh apart from otherwise eerily similar universities.
Path to Prominence changes will not only affect the lives of current and prospective Lehigh students, but also impact South Side residents who live near the university and interact with its students and faculty. Expansion will give Lehigh students a more encompassing campus, only as residents of South Bethlehem watch parts of their community transform into something unrecognizable.
For starters, it seems as though new businesses are opening with only the Lehigh student demographic in mind.
South Bethlehem has opened trendier food destinations such as Starbucks, Roasted and Playa Bowls, while other community joints like Blue Sky Cafe have closed. Though the city is still diverse in its food options, these new destinations are becoming more noticeable and could overshadow community staples that helped build the South Side from the ground up.
The Path to Prominence aims to improve Lehigh’s reputation on both the national and global scales, however in doing so, Lehigh runs the risk of losing its focus on keeping its local reputation. As Lehigh continues to build further into the community, there should be a conscious effort to strengthen its relationship with the South Side, rather than impede on it.
There are resources, offices and efforts on campus that facilitate a working relationship with South Bethlehem. The South Side Initiative, Broughal Middle School Homework Club and other events set forth by the Community Service Office are only a few ways Lehigh students and faculty are attempting to blur the lines between the campus community and South Bethlehem – ultimately making it one in the same.
But one thing both Lehigh students and local community members share is a feeling of uncertainty as the school is changing before our eyes, morphing into something unfamiliar. Construction around campus and in South Bethlehem is just one of the tangible reminders that the Path to Prominence is also a route into the unknown.
Perhaps it will be in a few years when we visit campus with our families or friends that we will fall in love with the new changes. But as for now, we must live with the growing pains and recognize that the impact extends far beyond us.