Sesquicentennial Memories

Looking Back to the Future

By Michael Smith

image: Sesquicentennial Memories: 10/27/70On October 27, 1960, Lachlan Blair of Blair Associates unveiled a 20-year development plan for Rhode Island College that would become the basic blueprint for the design of the campus as we know it today. The plan was designed to accommodate a projected enrollment of 4,000 by the year 1980. Although Blair's sense of design and development proved to be insightful, the enrollment projections with which he worked were met far earlier than anticipated; by 1970, the headcount enrollment was well over 4,000.

Throughout its first 125 years, increasing student enrollment had been the most important factor driving the search for larger quarters. In more recent years, the expansion and improvement of academic programs and student services have played a larger role.

In the immediate years following World War II, it became apparent that the two building, five-acre downtown campus would not be adequate for the College's further growth, even in its then-limited mission as a College of Education. On December 9, 1948, the Board of Trustees gave its approval to President Whipple to seek architectural plans for a new, three-story structure that would link the 1898 College Building with the 1928 Henry Barnard School. The new addition would contain a 750-seat auditorium, a new gymnasium, and additional classroom space. Extensive reconstruction within the 1898 building would include the transformation of the existing auditorium to serve as the new College library. It was estimated that the cost of the project would be $1,124,925.

For a number of reasons, including the debate over the future direction of the institution as well as the resignation of President Whipple due to illness, this plan would not be carried out. Instead, with the support of Governor Dennis J. Roberts, it was determined that the College would move to a new 25-acre campus in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence. Designed by the firm of Howe, Prout, and Ekman, the initial plan called for a unistructure to accommodate 600 students. The sprawling facility would surround double quadrangles. A three-story central structure would house administrative and faculty offices and a 750-seat auditorium. The two-story eastern wing would contain College classrooms, laboratories, and the College gymnasium. To the north of the auditorium would be the cafeteria, student lounge, and a single-story wing for the library and additional classrooms. The two-story western wing of the building would house the Henry Barnard School, with its classrooms, clinics, and physical education facilities. The $3.5 million bond issue to fund the new campus was passed in November of 1954 with the approval of over 73% of the voters.

Shortly after the successful referendum, however, James P. Adams, Chair of the Board of Trustees of State Colleges, announced that the expectation of rapid growth for the College would render the unistructure design unworkable. Instead, the architects were directed to redraw the plans in a more flexible campus-style arrangement. Five separate buildings were envisioned to house administrative offices and a 750-seat auditorium, two classroom buildings, a gymnasium, and the Henry Barnard School. The buildings were to be joined by covered walkways. The state agreed to return to the voters in November of 1956 for an additional $1.6 million to cover increased costs necessitated by the new design. Along the way, a sixth building was added to house a library, student services, dining services, and study areas, the auditorium was enlarged by over 200 seats, and the covered walkway plans were dropped. The second bond issue was passed by an even greater margin than the 1954 plebiscite with the approval of over 76% of the voters.

Shortly after the new campus opened in the fall of 1958, discussions ensued that would expand the mission of the College to include degree programs in the arts and sciences. Once again, the expectation of significantly increased enrollment drove the development of yet a new master plan for the College. The initial plan by Blair Associates envisioned the expansion of the campus to the west with construction of a President's Residence just off Fruit Hill Avenue, development of athletic facilities along the northern side of the campus, and the construction of a residential quad south of College Road and just west of Triggs Memorial Golf Course. A large athletic complex would anchor the western end of an outdoor mall surrounded by primarily academic buildings.

As noted, due to enrollment growth at a rate far beyond what had been anticipated in the Blair study, a new master plan by the firm of Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay Associates, Inc. was unveiled in July of 1966. The new plan called for immediate construction of a professional studies classroom building adjacent to the Henry Barnard School, a tower addition to Craig-Lee, an administration wing at Roberts extending north from the existing administration wing, a faculty center addition to the Donovan Dining Center, a swimming pool/recreation facility addition on the south side of Walsh, a student union, a music wing for Roberts, and an addition to what is now known as Gaige Hall. Phase II growth would include an addition to the north of Adams that would double the size of the library, enlargement of the backstage area of Roberts, a classroom building perpendicular to Alger Hall to the north, another classroom building in line with and to the east of Alger reaching almost to Whipple, and a new building situated in the existing parking lot to the south of the Administrative wing of Roberts. Parking was also addressed, with the study noting that 2000 cars were on campus during peak hours to vie for the 1425 then-existing parking spaces.

As surplus DCYF properties on the eastern edge of campus became available to the College – a lengthy process beginning in 1985 and extending through the late 1990's -- it became clear that a new plan should be developed to tie the new facilities to the existing campus and to improve the overall campus. As part of an initiative begun in 1997, Goody Clancy & Associates, Inc. of Boston was retained to study the campus and make recommendations. This is the plan that now helps to guide development and improvements at the College. This most recent comprehensive Master Plan may be accessed on the College Web at

As we have seen, while no plan can anticipate every eventuality, it makes abundant sense to have an overall plan to maximize the physical resources of the institution.

PHOTO CAPTION: In his President's Report published in the spring of 1963, President Gaige included a modified illustration of the 1960 Blair Plan for campus development.

In each edition of What’s News at Rhode Island College during the course of the College’s Sesquicentennial observance, Michael Smith, Assistant to the President, presents a brief glimpse of an historic College event that occurred at some point in the institution’s history corresponding to the publication date of that particular edition of What’s News. This is the ninth installment. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Marlene Lopes, Special Collections Librarian, and John Foley ’67, former Vice President for College Advancement and Support, for their contributions to the research.

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