This letter is in response to the evident resolve of our administrators to forge ahead with an extensive renovation to the U.C., Lehigh’s foundational structure.
We all understand that the University Center has to be functional as well as beautiful, and that there are issues with the building. However, we should not let the refurbishment of early last decade necessarily alter our aesthetic appreciation. The last renovation changed the second floor Grace Lounge, formerly our ‘living room,’ into a dining room, while a deli was introduced into the south main room. The deli does not fit, nor does it look attractive, and turning Grace Lounge into cafeteria space was a poor idea to begin with. The last renovation, therefore, of c. 2000, was an unfortunate mistake, and we should not let it skew our conceptions about these spaces or even the building as a whole. But we understand that there are issues with the U.C. nonetheless.
President Simon and the administrators speak of the ‘path to prominence.’ While I agree an excellent strategy, is it not strictly illogical to consequently expect results within 10 or 15 years, even a generation? Great achievements sometimes require more time. Who is to say quite when, even if, we are to achieve first-tier research school status? We must be patient with the process, as well as with being at times ambitious. Further, the university is engaged with numerous other expensive projects in the path to prominence initiative, such as the Health College, replacing Christmas Saucon, and the revision or replacement of the Business School, among others. We therefore have quite a bit on hand regardless. And there are many alternatives for Packer Hall and the student center that we have not thought of as yet, some we could investigate more. Are we really so ashamed of our University Center that we must tear a third of it down, wrap much of the remaining with glass walls, while replacing stone with brick? Do we not seem to be going backward here?
Accordingly, I propose a 20 year delay in construction start on any serious revision of the U.C. until 2039, therefore. The present proposed renovation, actually a reinterpretation and deconstruction, being very broad and sweeping, could be a serious mistake. This 20 year postponement would give Lehigh more time to accrue ideas and perspectives, while allowing technology, even art and architecture, to advance and change. In the meantime, the U.C. might be given a far simpler makeover, while possibly using the second floor spaces as they were intended.
We should understand, as we do, that there are many facets of a great university, and in keeping with this not so often take a ‘brick and mortar’ perspective on change and progress. May we also occasionally think as poets and not always as scientists or engineers? A 20 year pause is what I respectfully suggest.