Westmont Magazine A Master Vision for Westmont's Future
When Westmont received permission in 1976 to increase enrollment from 800 to 1,200 students, Santa Barbara County also approved a new master plan for the campus. This document authorizes the construction of new buildings needed to serve the larger student body.
Enrollment reached the 1,200 limit in 1986. But to date, the college has added only two of the facilities approved in the 1976 plan: Whittier Science Building and Everest Hall.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Westmont focused on strengthening its faculty and rigorous academic program. Building phase one of Las Barrancas, the first 20 faculty homes, helped to achieve this goal.
To preserve its heritage while preparing for the future, the college also adopted a Long-Range Plan in 1995. Based on three years of study and campus-wide consultation, the document explains what Westmont envisions for its graduates and reaffirms a commitment to Christian liberal arts education.
President David Winter and his staff have now turned their attention to completing the campus core by the year 2020. As a first step, they have pursued the same kind of process that produced the Long-Range Plan.
Carl Johnson, an internationally known landscape architect who has designed hundreds of campuses, consulted with a committee that examined the environment of the site and existing needs for facilities. This group identified the best places on campus to build as well as the specific facilities needed to adequately educate 1,200 students.
While the committee’s findings match up quite well with the 1976 master plan, it requires modification in two areas: updating environmental standards and defining square footage for each new building.
Under the leadership of Randy Jones, director of campus planning, the college has developed proposed refinements to the existing master plan. After meeting extensively with neighbors to solicit their comments, Westmont will formally submit these revisions to Santa Barbara County officials this spring for approval.
The 1998 plan represents virtually no change in the number of parking spaces, student beds, and classroom, assembly, and spectator seats specified in the 1976 document. While the location of new buildings differs slightly on the new plan, their number remains the same.
Preserving the Campus
Environmental regulations for setbacks, buildable slopes, and woodland preserves have become more stringent since 1976. Rather than seek exceptions to any of these rules, Randy Jones began the planning process by identifying all the areas on campus unsuitable for building. “None of these sites will be used for new facilities,” he explains. “We intend to meet the environmental specifications 100 percent and preserve the existing fields, gardens, woodlands, and barrancas.”
In fact, Westmont’s 1998 plan goes beyond existing regulations and considers neighborhood compatibility as well. “We believe the campus should feel like an estate and fit in with the Montecito neighborhood,” Jones says. “We have moved some new buildings closer to the heart of campus and away from neighbors, and we will continue to use fields and woodlands as buffer areas.”
A catalogue of topographical features and botanical treasures on campus identified areas needing preservation. Jones also consulted old photographs of the original gardens and other work by the landscape architect. “This research gave us new insights about the campus that guided our planning,” he says.
The next step was deciding what new facilities were required. The committee met with faculty, staff, and students and circulated a questionnaire to determine needs. After compiling and reviewing projected uses of space, they proposed adding a residence hall, an academic complex of three buildings with classrooms and faculty offices, an art center, a chapel/auditorium, a college center with a bookstore and post office, and two small administrative buildings.
Enhancing the Ethos
In the final phase, the committee developed a visionary design for the campus that locates new facilities in clusters according to use. For example, putting classrooms and faculty offices next to the library and science building creates an academic area at the heart of the campus. The new residence hall fits in well by Armington and Van Kampen. Locating the college store and post office next to the dining commons gives students a place to gather for more than just meals. Staff offices in two small buildings above Kerrwood Hall will keep administrative functions centered around the estate house. The best place for the chapel/auditorium is across from the gym, close to several parking lots.
“At first glance, the master plan simply locates the buildings needed to conduct the business of education,” Provost Stan Gaede observes. “But it actually does much more by creating space that will shape hearts and stimulate learning,” he adds.
“Because academic departments are currently so spread out on campus, interaction among faculty and students from different majors is difficult. But the new design brings the departments together and invites such encounters on a daily basis,” Gaede continues. “It’s an important change that will encourage interdisciplinary dialogue and efforts.”
The beautiful estate gardens below Kerrwood will then become a link between the academic and college centers, bringing more people through this area. The recent restoration and addition of benches there have created an inviting place to gather.
Living areas will remain at the top and bottom of the campus. Buildings that formerly housed academic departments (such as Deane Hall, Reynolds Hall, and the Art Center) will once again become residences. Students who share a particular interest such as a foreign language will live here.
Some structures must make way for new facilities, including the physics and mathematics buildings, Hubbard Hall, the post office, the health center, and the old Quonset huts.
The master plan committee is also designing guidelines for the architectural character of future buildings, which will be compatible with Kerrwood Hall. “The new facilities will reflect a human scale and residential nature that avoids the large, institutional look of Page Hall,” Jones notes. “Buildings will fit into the hillsides and woodland areas to capture the feel of a Montecito estate.”
Once Santa Barbara County approves the revised master plan, the college will decide what to build first and seek funding.
Three’s a Crowd
With 300 students living three to a room, Westmont urgently needs another residence hall. While students make the best of crowded conditions, packing three people in a room designed for two creates challenges.
“Imagine waking up to three separate alarm clocks,” says Deanna Quelland ’00. “Although the three of us got along well, there was a constant clash of study habits, taste in music, and sleep and free times.”
Dan Weatherby ’01 agree. “It’s hard to sleep when my roommates are awake and talking. Two people are just noisier than one.”
Inviting guests in can present problems as well. “When your friends visit, you worry about bugging your roommates,” notes Devon Baker ’00. “And if your roommates’ friends show up when you’re studying, it gets annoying. Everyone loses.”
“Things just feel so small because there is so much stuff,” Emily Friesen ’00 adds. “The room always looks messy—it’s distracting, and it’s hard to study.”
Areas in the residence halls once used as study lounges now house students, which greatly limits study space. In surveys, nearly one out of three seniors has expressed strong dissatisfaction with study areas on campus.
A new residence hall would end crowding and restore study lounges. With 90 percent of Westmont students living on campus, providing adequate housing is crucial.
An Academic Heart
Classroom space is also limited and crowded, especially for the psychology department in Bauder Hall. The charming old carriage house simply can’t contain the office space and labs needed for the first-class program that faculty and students envision.
Professor Brenda Smith, who chairs the department, quotes a 1989 report from a team reviewing Westmont’s accreditation to bolster the case for improved space and equipment: “The facilities are deplorable, with respect to both space and equipment . . . [the psychology program needs] a major improvement in facilities.”
In addition to office space, the department desperately needs good lab facilities. “Since 1989, we have increased the number of lab courses from one to five, and all majors are required to take at least two,” Professor Smith explains. “The current lab (which doubles as a seminar room) barely accommodates 10 students comfortably. But lab sections are growing and can include up to 16 people.”
Current plans call for the first building in the academic complex to include the psychology, physics, and mathematics departments. “It’s critical to bring the departments in the division closer together,” says Professor David Neu, convener for the natural and behavioral sciences division and chair of the mathematics department. “We hope to establish a major in cognitive science—how the brain works—that will involve the psychology, biology, and computer science departments. They need to be near each other.
“We have one of the best science faculties at any Christian college, but not the facilities to match,” he concludes.
The physics program also needs more lab space says Professor Ken Kihlstrom, the department chair. “More students are taking labs, and we don’t have enough set-ups or space for them. Two students working together is ideal: one takes notes and the other does the experiment. Adding a third usually means someone isn’t involved in the project.”
Each department intends to create student lounges to provide study space and encourage group learning. “Students always benefit when they study with each other, particularly in the sciences,” notes Professor Kihlstrom.
The new plan also moves the art department into the academic complex, which puts all the creative and performing arts together and makes them highly visible to students from all majors. A larger gallery will allow more extensive exhibits and enhance our ability to display art on campus. Studios for student artists will encourage their creative efforts.
Faculty can hold classes outside on a series of landscaped terraces—an “academic street” or “academic garden”—planned for the academic complex. Students can also meet informally with professors in this outdoor space.
A True Student Center
Similar terraces outside the Kerr Student Center will also create places to gather. With the college store and post office near the dining commons, students will do more than just eat in this area. Student organizations and publications will have offices here, as will most student services, and the health and counseling centers will return to nearby Porter Center. Student activities will finally center around the Kerr Student Center.
Some day, the college will build a chapel/auditorium where the entire campus can worship or enjoy the performing arts together. The music and theatre departments look forward to acquiring sufficient space for their concerts and productions.
As the new campus takes shape during the next century, the quality of the facilities will begin to match the calibre of Westmont’s academic program.—Nancy Favor Phinney ’74