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Middlebury College constructs $31.7 million center for literary and cultural studies

July 19, 2006

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? For more than a century, Starr Library, which was built in 1900, stood at the heart of Middlebury College's academic life. Now that the college's new library is in place, the former library's traditional Beaux-Arts building is undergoing historic renovation and construction for its role as The Donald Everett Axinn '51 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library. The Boston firm of Childs Bertman Tseckares will design and manage the $31.7 million project, and Colchester-based Engelberth Construction is the general contractor.

The Donald Everett Axinn '51 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library.

Construction and renovation of the 81,000-square-foot facility began on June 30 and will continue through September 2008, with partial occupancy expected during the summer of 2008 for Middlebury College Language School activities and events. According to Middlebury College Project Manager Tom McGinn, the building will be fully occupied for the 2008 fall term. The college will use numerous local products and services for the construction, and as many materials as possible will be harvested from the original structure for recycling or reuse, including wood, stone, marble, copper and concrete.

Donald Everett Axinn, a member of the Middlebury College class of 1951, contributed to the funds needed for the project. The Axinn Center at Starr Library, as it will be informally known, will house the Middlebury College Departments of History and English and American Literatures, and the Programs in American Studies, Creative Writing and Film and Media Culture.
The space will accommodate faculty offices, technologically "smart" classrooms, a 65-seat screening room, film production and editing studios, a light-filled winter garden and a landscaped, south-facing courtyard. The original Starr Library, its 1927 wings, and the 1959 Shepley Pavilion will be renovated and historically restored; the Meredith Wing and several 1970s additions will be removed for new construction, which will include two symmetrical wings designed with reference to the style and character of Old Stone Row, the college's original three buildings that stand nearby.

Axinn, a businessman, filmmaker, poet and novelist, 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. "When you improve facilities, you create opportunities to enhance performance," said Axinn. "The Axinn Center at Starr Library will be a place for learning, signifying the importance of humanities at Middlebury. The building is an expansion of my great pride in the college, and in witnessing how it continues to thrive."

"The new facility will create the opportunity for the kind of interdepartmental and programmatic collaboration that is essential for today's institutions of higher education," said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. "Its success depends on the redrawing of conventional boundaries in teaching, research and artistic expression. The Axinn Center at Starr Library will allow us to preserve historical tradition while encouraging creativity and innovation."

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 will also be a part of 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 will incorporate 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.

From a historical perspective, the new facility will be significant for re-establishing the building's traditional importance in the college landscape. "Over time, the original architecture of Starr Library was overwhelmed by subsequent updates and additions," said Glenn Andres, a professor in the Middlebury College Department of History of Art and Architecture and chair of the Axinn Center planning committee. "With this project, the beloved building will gain renewed importance among the college's academic facilities, its beautiful historic spaces will be brought back to their original character, and its handsome exterior, incorporating some of the finest Beaux-Arts and International Style design in the state, will translate as its designers intended."

Childs Bertman Tseckares has completed major projects involving renovation and additions to the landmark courthouse of Suffolk County, Mass., and to historic buildings at Wellesley and Babson Colleges. Andrea Gilmore, regional director of Building Conservation Associates in Dedham, Mass., will direct all historic renovation, most notably the interior spaces. Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates will design the south-facing courtyard and other spaces that surround the center. Specializing in natural, sustainable landscapes, the firm has completed projects for Yale, Cornell and Princeton Universities, as well as for Middlebury's new library and Atwater Commons.

To follow is a historic timeline of the Starr Library construction:

1900         Starr Library constructed
1927         Two-wing Abernethy addition
1959-62   Shepley Pavilion (Glass-enclosed reading rooms)
1977-79   Meredith Wing (stack rooms)
2006-08   The Donald Everett Axinn '51 Center for Literary
                   and Cultural Studies at Starr Library constructed