September 13, 2000

On the Campus

Please pardon our mess

Orange Key guides improvise on hard-hat campus tours

By Andrew Shtulman '01

Summer is the busiest time of year for the Orange Key Guide Service. From June through August, 16,000 high school students and parents - as many as in the other nine months combined - flock to Princeton to view the campus and its contents. Unfortunately, summer is also the busiest time of year for the planning office. With most students away, the university has nearly 16 weeks of sustained vacancies - a perfect time to renovate old buildings and construct new ones.

Together, these conditions make for a sticky situation: Princeton presented to large numbers of visitors just when it's most unpresentable. A tour guide myself, I warn my groups at the start that we will be seeing a lot of construction. I tell them the reason is not that the university is falling apart at the seams, but that the development office just finished a billion-dollar anniversary campaign, much of which was earmarked for specific building projects. "This is an exciting time to be a student on campus," I explain, "because so many new facilities are opening for our use."

I use the word "time" loosely, as in "decade," not "summer." Sure, we're all excited about these newly constructed/ newly renovated buildings, but no one's thrilled about the disruptions the construction brings. Those of us actually living on campus during this jackhammer fiesta watch helplessly as our beautiful gothic buildings, once covered in ivy, are now hidden by chicken wire, plastic sheeting, and metal scaffolding.

An outside observer might think the university was just being erected, for the construction is all-encompassing. Walking from University Place to Washington Road, a visitor would see signs of repair and renovation surrounding the U-Store, Blair and Little halls, the Frist Campus Center, the Chapel, and the Woodrow Wilson School (not to mention three projects beyond Washington). From Faculty Road to Nassau Street, the sights - and sites - include a new parking garage, Butler College, Murray-Dodge, and the Joseph Henry House.

While visitors to campus surely marvel at such an expansive, and expensive, undertaking, they can't appreciate the extent of the work the way we students -who have experienced Princeton in a relatively construction-free state - can. I remember when the new stadium was the only major project on campus. How I long for those days when I could sit down outside and not see a backhoe! Alas, Princeton has taken on so many projects that students now make more small talk about construction than about the weather (according to the results of my own informal, unscientific survey).

Yet even in the midst of bulldozers and cranes, tradition takes place as usual. Summer-camp participants stay in Brown and Holder, two dormitories not being renovated. Molecular biology majors, the majority of whom are on campus doing thesis research, just walk around the construction to get to their labs. And the Chapel continues to hold wedding after wedding after wedding - around 74 for the entire year. Though half the stained glass has been removed and half the walls have been covered in scaffolding, Princeton brides and grooms are still sticking to their plans to get married in the confines of their alma mater.

At night, when the buzz of saws and the pounding of hammers have subsided, you almost forget that construction noise will wake you up again the next morning. This forgetfulness takes hold particularly if you're lounging by the Freedom Fountain outside the Woodrow Wilson School. The floodlights surrounding the building have been covered with gels, dyeing its columns red, yellow, orange, and blue. On any given night, you'll find a number of couples sitting on the steps there, eating ice cream from Thomas Sweet's, completely oblivious to the fact that the building behind them is undergoing asbestos removal. I guess even under construction, Princeton's charms still manage to shine through.

Andrew Shtulman ( lived next door to the Dial Lodge construction site this summer.

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