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Building the Lehigh of Tomorrow: Tower Society Events in Florida

Lehigh pride knows no geographic boundaries, as proven when nearly 100 alumni and friends gathered for two Tower Society events on the coasts of Florida on February 3 and 5, 2019. Guests enjoyed socializing with fellow alumni over lunch and learned about new campus developments, particularly those relating to GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. The keynote speaker at the gatherings held at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples and The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach was Brent Stringfellow, associate vice president for facilities services and university architect. He spoke in depth about campaign projects such as the Bridge West residence hall, the Clayton University Center at Packer Hall renovation and expansion, and the new Health, Science, and Technology building.

In her opening remarks, Lorraine Wiedorn, assistant vice president, planned giving, welcomed guests and thanked them for their commitment to Lehigh and its students before introducing Stringfellow. Stringfellow discussed the physical expansion of the university that will span the next three years.

“Many of these projects fall under the umbrella of the ‘Path to Prominence’ university plan,” Stringfellow said. “But they also are part of the GO Campaign, which is a comprehensive set of goals relating to access and opportunity, financial aid, providing more opportunities for Lehigh students, and research … really providing the fuel for Lehigh to maintain its status as a research institution of distinction.”

Stringfellow outlined the three main components of the Path to Prominence plan: expansion — the growth of the student population by 1,000 undergraduate and 500 graduate students and 100 new faculty; exploration — including new academic initiatives such as the College of Health; and evolution — the campus-wide infrastructure initiative intended to address the university’s most pressing needs, which was the focus of his talk.

“I like the term evolution when talking about transforming Lehigh because we’re approaching the campus in such a way that we’re building on that legacy of Lehigh, not necessarily changing it fundamentally,” he said. “But there will certainly be things that are transformative to the experience.”

Stringfellow shared that key elements are being followed when moving forward with capital projects, such as reinforcing Lehigh’s historic core and enhancing campus and community connections. Important design principles underlying all the building projects include stewardship of Lehigh’s building assets while providing flexibility and agility in the use of space.  Breaking down silos that exist between academic disciplines is also a consideration.

“We want to take into account the maintenance and preservation of Lehigh’s buildings, but also consider issues of sustainability and functionality to the campus,” Stringfellow explained. “Buildings and structures can adjust to change. The way students live today is very different than it was in the past, and we can’t even predict what it will be like five or 10 years from now.”

Bridge West and the Clayton University Center

With the goal of adding more than 1,000 students to a campus already at capacity, Stringfellow said, “We knew we needed to add some new dorms. It wasn’t just a question of adding beds, but also saying, ‘What do we need to do to better support the students’ social life on campus?’.”

Site and landscape designs for both Bridge West and the Clayton University Center are integrated to join the residential and academic parts of campus that are currently not connected. The Bridge West complex will be located next to the Clayton University Center and connected by a new Great Lawn, creating a dynamic outdoor recreational space with hammocks, a bocce court, and plenty of seating. In addition to being a residence hall, Bridge West will include meeting spaces, fitness areas, game rooms, and multi-use spaces.

“This is really critical to student life. These spaces are intended to provide an array of different types of spaces for students to study, for social and academic work. There’s really a blurring between academic and residential spaces that has to do with the changing habits of students and the increase in group work.”

A $20 million gift to launch the Clayton University Center renovation and expansion was given by Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Clayton ’84 ’13P and his wife, Lisa ’13P. The Claytons chose the iconic building, which will now be called the Clayton University Center at Packer Hall, because it touches every person who attends, teaches, or works at Lehigh.

Both historically and geographically, Clayton University Center is the heart of Lehigh’s Asa Packer Campus. Students have said it’s functional as a place to eat but not as somewhere they would gather to socialize or spend time.

“We want the University Center to be a place for students to ‘see and be seen,’ which is a phrase we heard from them again and again. We want to make it more of that true campus center,” Stringfellow said.

The Clayton University Center renovation will increase space by 30 percent and offer updated spaces for dining, conferences, student activities, and organizations as well as common spaces for students to gather informally. One such space, dubbed “The Avenue,” will be a large, open-concourse area for students to move through the center as well as gather to relax or study. The Asa Packer Dining Room will become more of a meeting space, and dining areas will instead anchor both sides of the Clayton University Center.

Health, Science, and Technology Building

Of the proposed Health, Science, and Technology (HST) building, Stringfellow said that even though the new College of Health will be located there, the research activities will be interdisciplinary. Labs in the building will not be assigned to a department or college but rather on a theme basis.

“This will allow researchers from different departments or disciplines to work next to one another to build on each other’s research or create new opportunities for research,” he said.
The building will have entrances both on the university side as well as the community side.

“So many of Lehigh’s buildings in the past were really inward-facing. The new HST building will connect the university to the Southside, to the broader community — partly because the College of Health will be there but also as a way to start to open up and create more of a gateway as you arrive at campus,” Stringfellow said.

Allan Kachel ’71, who attended the Palm Beach event, said he and his wife, Robin, always look forward to the annual Tower Society gathering in Florida as a way to keep in touch with old friends and Lehigh staff members. “We don’t get back to campus as often as we used to, and it’s a wonderful way to learn about what’s happening at Lehigh. It was great to see all the new plans — the buildings, facilities, and the new College of Health. It really brings us back home to campus!”

— Cynthia Tintorri