President Sean Decatur announced that the College received a 75 million dollar gift from an anonymous donor this afternoon. It is the largest single gift in the College’s history.
Decatur said the donation will support the construction of a new academic quad (“West Quad”), which will include a new library and academic commons. The new quad will also include a social sciences academic building and new facilities for the admissions department and the Career Development Office.
In an interview with the Collegian, Decatur clarified that any other projects the gift enables, like making Ascension Hall more accessible or increasing financial aid and the endowment, “comes from the fact that funds we know we have to spend on doing building maintenance — whether it’s building maintenance on the library or building maintence on Ascension or other places — we now know is freed up.”
The new library will replace Olin and Chalmers library, and Decatur said the College remained “committed to making sure that the library collection remains accessible for everyone on campus during the construction.”
Decatur also guaranteed two elevators for Ascension Hall, which will help make the building accessible to all, regardless of mobility. However, Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said that work on Ascension would likely not begin until after West Quad construction has been completed.
In order to make room for the two elevators in Ascension, a group of faculty offices in the building will have to be moved. Kohlman said these faculty offices will move into the new academic building in West Quad. .
“Once departments on campus are rearranged we can start work on Ascension and Sunset and so we’re now by my count somewhere in the 2022, 2023 year for that to happen,” Decatur said.
He estimated that all of the construction and renovation plans are taking place on an approximately five or five-and-a-half year timeline.
Decatur said that student feedback around plans for Sunset and Ascension was “incredibly important,” adding that accessibility in Ascension is a topic he has heard about since he arrived on campus five years ago.
Brackett B. Denniston III ’69, chairman of the board of trustees, said that there were several vocal board members — as well as student feedback — involved in the conversation to keep Sunset. “Some people said ‘Oh, Sunset’s really not that nice, it’s not that important,’ but ultimately sometimes you have to listen to sentiment,” he said. “And this was about sentiment, and I think it challenged us to find a solution where we could preserve Sunset and still do the other things.”
Construction of the two new English buildings will begin this fall, but Decatur said that the impact on academic spaces this year will be fairly minimal.
“This will be construction of a whole new building, so it shouldn’t disrupt either faculty offices for office hours … or impact classroom space,” he said.
Decatur said the administration will seek student input for how the College should handle looking for alternative study spaces while construction on the library and West Quad is ongoing.
“I think that this something that we have to have both conversation and community conversations about certainly in terms of study spaces,” Decatur said. “You know, one model we’ve talked about it is how we can we have several dedicated sites for study spaces on different parts of campus.”
Decatur said this would include multiple spaces throughout North and South quad. He mentioned the possibility of Bexley Hall being converted into a temporary study space. He also said the College would look at adding temporary 24-hour study spaces for students during the renovations.
Kohlman confirmed these study spaces will be temporary structures as well as pre-existing spaces on campus. He predicted the College might add furniture to lounge spaces in residence halls to ensure students in these halls have a place to study.
Vice President for College Relations Heidi McCrory explained this project will help improve Kenyon’s endowment, which is low compared to peer institutions, because it allows the College to funnel funds that would have gone towards these construction projects into improving the endowment.
“The positive benefit this gift has is that, because it covers much of the cost of the project, it allows us to focus on raising gifts for endowment, specifically endowment gifts for financial aid and scholarships,” McCrory said.
Denniston and Decatur declined to reveal any information about the donor. Decatur said that “the Capital projects are a particular area of supportive interest of the donor,” referring to the campus renovation plan which the donation will address.
Emily Birnbaum, Lauren Eller, Bill Gardner and Gabrielle Healy contributed reporting to this story.
This story is still developing, and we will continue to update this post.