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Frist builds on success as campus epicenter

From the Sept. 11, 2005, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Marking its fifth anniversary this fall, the Frist Campus Center is still a relatively new addition to Princeton’s venerable campus. But it has quickly earned the ultimate compliment from campus community members: They can’t imagine life here without Frist.

The center has become a hub for the roughly 12,000 students, faculty and staff who pay multiple visits each day for meals, classes, meetings, study groups, live music and performances, films and other activities. Throughout this academic year, Frist will celebrate its five-year anniversary of operation while at the same time welcoming new community members and implementing other changes to build on its success.

The center’s three major annual events — its fall community open house, Winter Holiday Festival and spring FristFest — will be “bigger and better” this year in honor of the anniversary, according to Tom Myers, director of Frist and the Office of University Scheduling.

“It’s an exciting time for us and an opportunity for our staff to use this year to strengthen our relationship within the community,” Myers said. “We have educated the community as to what’s available at Frist, and the undergraduate students now only know Princeton with Frist. At our fifth anniversary, the question is: What can we do that is new and exciting? That’s what we’re looking for in the next five years.”

The Sept. 14 open house, which enables students and employees to learn about the various activities, programs and services available at Frist, will include a new exhibition on campus life at Princeton to mark the center’s anniversary. Other special anniversary plans will be incorporated into the Dec. 14 Winter Holiday Festival and the May 4-6 FristFest.

Laurie Hall, Frist’s associate director for programs, said, “We thought about that first year we were open and how exciting that was, not just for us but for the entire campus community. Now we have a whole different generation of students and staff who weren’t here during that time, so we want to replicate that kind of excitement to bring attention to what a new venture this really is still for this campus.”

The Frist venture will continue to evolve this year, with renovations in its dining operations currently under way. An expanded menu of late-night offerings at Café Vivian, including pizza, hot entrees and refrigerated items, will be available beginning this month. By December, the dining gallery on the A level will provide a broader menu of ethnic foods.

Also under renovation during the fall semester is the 200-level Frantz Student Activity Center, which will house new offices for the Pace Center, Community-Based Learning Initiative, Princeton Student Agencies and Center Stage Program Board, a volunteer group of students that develops programs and activities for Frist. The office vacated by the Pace Center, also on the 200 level, will house the newly established Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Center and an office for the Pride Alliance, an LGBT student group. The renovations will begin in mid-October and are expected to be finished in January.

These groups are among the numerous centers and offices housed at Frist, representing a diverse sampling of programs and services available to the Princeton community, such as the International Center, Women’s Center, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, undergraduate and graduate student government offices and Orange Key Guide Service.

Exceeding expectations

The concentration of these organizations and services in one building, combined with the center’s location and opportunities for social interaction, has enabled Frist to thrive. Before it opened in fall 2000, however, there were some doubts about whether the $48 million center would succeed, as the idea of a campus center at Princeton had been discussed on and off for many years.

“Many people, including administrators and students, were concerned that Frist would be a ‘white elephant,’ that students wouldn’t accept it and it would not fulfill the mission we all had envisioned. I think Frist has, in many ways, exceeded the expectations of the planners,” said Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life.

“Frist is nationally acclaimed, both for its design and its management,” she added. “Colleagues at other universities particularly note the success of the model bringing together academic and student life.”

Paul Breitman, who was the first director of Frist and is now general manager for University Services, said, “People have said it seems like it’s always been here. That’s not an accident. I think it’s partly because it was a pre-existing building (the old Palmer Hall) and also because we tried to instill that it was not a new tradition in itself but would continue and build upon existing traditions of Princeton. Frist is at Princeton to augment, supplement and complement what everyone else already does as opposed to trying to create something new.”

Anita Rackovan, a senior, said “much of Princeton’s livelihood revolves around” Frist, which she visits at least three times a day.

“From meeting up with study groups, to grabbing snacks between classes, watching ‘SportsCenter’ on the big screen, checking e-mail, going to $2 movies, taking shortcuts through it to class, pulling all-nighters to work on term papers and satisfying late-night cravings after a night out on the social scene, there are very few daily activities that do not involve Frist,” she said.

Kelly Sortino, a 2003 Princeton graduate who now works as a University admission officer, was a sophomore when Frist opened its doors. “When talking to current underclassmen, I feel like the proverbial grandparent telling the younger generation that we didn’t always have it so easy, that I actually lived through the days when Frist didn’t exist,” she said. “Sometimes I receive this look of absolute disbelief, as if to say, ‘How could you survive without Frist?’”

Clancy Rowley, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who graduated from Princeton in 1995, visits Frist often to dine in the gallery or Café Vivian. “When I was an undergraduate here the student center was Chancellor Green, which is a beautiful building, but small and far from the center of campus, and it was not well used by students or faculty,” he said. “Frist is perfectly located and always bustling with students.”

Rowley has paid particular attention to Frist as a member of the Dining and Social Options Task Force, established by President Tilghman to develop recommendations for the dining and social environment in the planned four-year residential college system.

“The food at Frist is generally considered to be better than the food at the residential college dining halls, and one of the recommendations of the task force was that the quality of the residential college food be improved substantially, so that all dining units (meal plan and retail) would have the same high quality,” he said.

Stu Orefice, director of dining services, noted that the “marketplace” design of the Frist food gallery has been incorporated into plans for the new Whitman College, which is slated to open in 2007, and for future renovations in the existing residential colleges.

Managing growth and changing needs

Over the past five years, Frist has experienced growth in a number of areas as it has become a campus fixture.

Last year, in response to the Presidential Task Force on Health and Well-Being’s call for healthier dining options, the Beverage Laboratory on Frist’s 100 level was replaced with the Healthy Eating Lab, which offers a more popular menu of salads, sushi and soups.

In addition, the Office of Information Technology moved its solutions center to Frist in 2003, consolidating operations that had been in multiple locations to provide more convenient service to students, faculty and staff. The Orange Key Guide Service also moved its operation from Maclean House to Frist when the center opened, making it the first venue that many prospective students and their families experience when visiting Princeton.

The number of estimated daily visitors to Frist has increased by 20 percent from about 10,000 in its first year of operation. Last year, the center scheduled, hosted and facilitated 13,519 events, programs, meetings and conferences, compared to 9,687 five years earlier.

The success of Frist also helped lead to the creation of University Services in 2003, with the aim of improving services in the areas of event planning, utilization of campus facilities, hospitality options and visitor experiences. University Services now oversees management of Frist and several other venues and services, including Richardson Auditorium, University Ticketing, University Scheduling, Prospect and Palmer houses, the TigerCard/parking office and the P-Ride shuttles.

“Frist created that service focus at the University,” Breitman said.

Looking ahead to the next five years and beyond, Myers, the Frist director, plans to undertake a formal assessment of the center’s services this year. One goal he already has identified is increased cooperation between the center and the colleges.

“Understanding that the residential colleges are a significant University priority, we would like to work collaboratively with the colleges to see what we can do to help them meet their needs and have Frist be a viable option for college programming,” he said.

With the Frist facilities already heavily booked, demand for space will be a major issue in looking to the future, particularly with the planned expansion of the undergraduate student body.

“We will continue to interact with community members to hear what they need, because it’s changing,” Myers said. “What they needed in 2000 may not be what they need now and or five years from now. We need to be able to respond to that.”

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