This Old Hall

Severance House President Anjali Aralikar ’23 relaxes in her renovated dorm room.
Image credit: Webb Chappell
Author  Jennifer E. Garrett ’98
Published on 
The renovation of half of Severance Hall last summer marked the beginning of a $250 million plan to preserve Wellesley’s beloved residence halls and make them greener and more accessible.

Severance is a hall divided. Literally.

“There is legitimately a line!” says Sarah Griffin ’25, a resident advisor on the second floor of Severance, laughing. In fact, a perceptible line runs through the dorm, denoted by different colored carpets and ceiling tiles, marking which half of the building was renovated this past summer, and which half will get the same treatment in summer 2023.

But renovating Severance Hall is just the beginning of a massive 10-year plan to overhaul and upgrade every large residence hall on campus, and it involves far more than carpet and ceiling tiles.

Building a Plan of Action

The College is nearing its 150th anniversary, and many of its buildings are well past their centennial. While these structures reflect the storied and revered history of Wellesley, they also reflect the ravages of time—and the changing standards it brings. The residence halls have aged, often badly, and maintenance and upgrades were too long deferred. For the past six years, the College has focused on critical repairs, addressing failing building systems, leaking roofs and windows, and other urgent problems. These repairs touched every dorm on campus, large and small, ensuring that the students had safe places to live.

At the same time, the College was developing a long-term strategy to address the larger issues facing these residences. “We have a plan that’s mapped to address all of these buildings over the next 10 years,” says Dave Chakraborty, assistant vice president of facilities management and planning. “These are historical buildings, and these are very charming structures, and therefore, we are not going to tear down the buildings and build from new. We are going to renovate the existing buildings so that the look, the feel, the nuances of each and every building—we will protect that.”

That’s no easy feat, considering that the College is a largely residential one, and the dorms are filled to capacity each year. Several options were considered, including off-campus housing and modular temporary dorms, but in the end, the best choice was working on each residence hall in phases during the summer months. The projects’ timelines are so intense that the College has adjusted its academic calendar to allow more time for these “summer slammers.” Notably for alumnae, reunion will take place earlier in the spring than before—in 2023, May 26–28.

“Severance is the kickoff, the first building of the next 10 years,” says Michelle Maheu, director of planning, design, and construction. “As we move along in future summers, we will have multiple buildings going at the same time. Every building has to be renovated over two summers, and that’s because we don’t have space to put the students elsewhere, so we’re limited to the summer construction window. And because there’s so much work to do, we can’t do it in one summer.”

This is an excerpt from an article by Jennifer E. Garrett ’98 that appears in the fall edition of “Wellesley” magazine. Read the full story on the magazine website.