MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? On Saturday, Oct. 18, several related events will commemorate the official dedication of the recently completed Donald E. Axinn ‘51, Litt. D. ‘89 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library, including a poetry reading, architectural tours of the building, a reception and a college choir performance. All of the events, which are free and open to the public, will take place at the Axinn Center at Starr Library, as the building is informally known, located on Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125).

Beginning at 11 a.m., Don Axinn, for whom the building is named, will read from his own works of poetry in the Abernethy Room. Axinn is a member of the Middlebury College class of 1951 and contributed to the funds needed for the project. He is a businessman, filmmaker, poet and novelist, and he received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the college in 1989. He also endowed a chair in English and creative writing in 1987, which is currently held by Middlebury College Professor Jay Parini.

At noon, an official dedication of the building will take place in the Winter Garden at the building’s entrance. Following the dedication, at 1:30 and 3 p.m., Middlebury College Director of the Arts and C.A. Johnson Professor of Art Glenn Andres will lead tours of the building and discuss its history. At 8 p.m. that evening, the Middlebury College Choir will perform selected works celebrating American poets in the Reading Room.

For more than a century, the original Starr Library stood at the heart of Middlebury College’s academic life. Built in 1900, and expanded over the years, it was a beloved and often remembered architectural icon on campus. Remarkably, more than just the memory of that original campus landmark remains.

“The Axinn Center at Starr Library gives new life to one of the college’s most beautiful and beloved buildings,” said Andres. “It is a remarkable result of the sensitive adaptation of an historic building to new purposes. The exteriors of the original Beaux-Arts marble library and the modernist wing have been cleaned and restored, and the addition of two wings of faculty offices echoes the materials and profiles of the adjacent Old Stone Row buildings. The historic main reading room and Abernethy room have been restored to their original appearance.

“At the same time,” noted Andres, “the historic core has been adapted to provide state-of-the-art screening and smart classroom facilities that make this one of our most progressive academic building on campus.” In addition to the original restored and renovated rooms, the Axinn Center at Starr Library has 44,000 square feet of new space.

Construction and renovation on the $32 million project, designed by Boston-based Childs Bertman Tseckares with general contractors from Engelberth Construction of Colchester, began in June 2006. By June 2008, the facility was available for the opening of the Middlebury College Language School, and also housed various classes, activities and events throughout the summer.

In September 2008, the Axinn Center at Starr Library became the permanent home to several Middlebury College departments that had previously been spread out around campus. The building creates a centralized location for the departments of history, film and media culture, and English and American Literatures. With nine “smart” classrooms, 56 state-of-the-art academic offices and extensive space for film production, editing and screening, this newest addition to the 208-year-old academic institution boasts the finest of today’s technology, while the striking grandeur of the original rooms maintains its solid place in history. A light-filled winter garden welcomes visitors, and a southern-facing landscaped courtyard creates private space for outdoor gatherings.

“The Axinn Center at Starr Library gives a modern face to our deeply historical tradition and provides an opportunity for the interdepartmental and programmatic collaboration that is essential for encouraging creativity and innovation in today’s institutions of higher education,” said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz.

According to Middlebury College Project Manager Tom McGinn, the college used numerous local products and services for the construction. The Meredith Wing and portions of the 1969-1972 additions were deconstructed and as many materials as possible were harvested for recycling or reuse, including wood, stone, marble, copper and concrete. 

 ”Adapting an existing building rather than simply starting from scratch is part of the college’s commitment to sustainable construction,” said McGinn. “We’ve double-glazed windows, updated mechanical systems and added much-need technological necessities. It’s a smart way to use what we have to create something new.”

For this project, as with recent new buildings, college administrators and architects worked together with Burlington-based Efficiency Vermont to ensure that environmental considerations and energy efficiency were incorporated into the design and construction. The new facility is also networked to the college’s existing energy management system, which regulates lighting, cooling and ventilation throughout the campus. The system incorporates energy saving measures such as motion sensors and carbon dioxide sensors, which can adjust lighting, temperature and ventilation depending on whether or not people are detected in the room. Additionally, the new building relies on an environmentally sound landscape of native species to accommodate storm water retention. The design uses a vegetative swale that allows the water to filter through the landscape so that solids can settle out before emptying into storm drains.

The following is a historic timeline of the Donald E. Axinn ‘51, Litt. D. ‘89 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library:


Starr Library constructed

Abernethy and reserve Reading Rooms

International Style Reading Room

Meredith Wing

The Donald E. Axinn ‘51, Litt. D. ‘89 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library opened