HARTFORD, CT, November 30, 2012 – Now a large, vacant rectangular room that is greatly underutilized, Vernon Social Center would be transformed into an exciting and attractive venue under plans unveiled Thursday night during a well attended Open House. As envisioned, the main part of the building would be totally renovated and refurbished, and would provide a space where members of the campus community could grab a deli sandwich, linger over their laptop, warm themselves around an outdoor fire pit, listen to music, or just hang out.
The revitalized facility – which has been given the green light by the College’s Board of Trustees -- would serve as the linchpin of a new and dynamic social atmosphere on campus. The new building, tentatively called “Vernon Social,” is slated to open in August 2013.
“Students have expressed the need for a neutral social space that unites the campus and [where] every student feels welcome to visit at any time, day or night,” said a report issued in October by the Charter Committee for Building Social Community at Trinity College, which was composed of trustees, faculty, administrators, and students. “Vernon Social is positioned in an ideal location to fill this need – in the heart of Vernon Street – however, its current configuration is not. We seek to transform Vernon Social into a vibrant hub for student life.”
The Charter Committee’s mission was to offer recommendations for consideration by the Board of Trustees that would enrich the social landscape of Trinity and support a robust intellectual climate on campus. The trustees unanimously endorsed the recommendations.
The configuration of the new social space is still a work in progress, although the key components were on display Thursday evening for all to see and savor. There were mini sandwiches provided by Goldberg’s Bagels, a popular eatery on New Britain Avenue, and finger foods and beverages from Chartwells Dining Services. Both are viewed as likely vendors, although no leases have yet been signed.
Visitors to the Open House could also view the floor plan designed by Tecton Architects, Inc. of Hartford as well as the exterior work and landscaping proposed by Towers/Golde of New Haven. SP3 Inc., an audio-visual consultant based in Farmington, CT, was also on hand.
The two-hour event was kicked off by Trinity President James F. Jones, Jr., and Sophie Bell Ayres ’77, P12, a member of the Board of Trustees, the Charter Committee and a special committee that was established with the aim of transforming the Vernon Social Center into a welcoming and inviting place for students to gather.
“It was clear to us that we needed more varied social options” on campus, said Ayres. After surveying the campus for possible locations, the committee settled on the Vernon Social Center because, said Ayres, “it looks like a glorified gymnasium right now. Most of the time it sits here empty and locked.” Ayres said the committee members asked themselves “what if we could create something fabulous?”
Indeed, that is the goal, ambitious as it may be. As proposed, the renovated facility would include a restaurant run by Goldberg’s; a convenience store operated by Chartwells; a lounge; numerous small seating areas; and outdoor seating. The main space would occupy about 7,000 square feet and the convenience store would take up 1,200 square feet.
Kathryn Mease, an interior designer with Tecton, said that in drawing up the plans, her firm’s objective was to “break up the space and give it some personality.” Under the proposal, there would be a large open seating area with tables and chairs, all of which could be reconfigured for special events. There also would be counters with stools and possibly a pub-style area, although that hasn’t been determined.
“During the day, there would be a coffeehouse feel. We’re hoping that every environment will be comfortable to every student,” Mease said. “At night, it would be more of a dynamic social space.”
The plans developed by Tecton dovetail with the concept developed by the Charter Committee. As stated in its report, the committee said: “We envision an inviting, cozy décor with a variety of comfortable seating options; smaller spaces within the Great Room; and a diner-style food service operation as well as a convenience store. By day, the space will serve as a casual lounge with a “Starbucks” feel, conducive to group study, faculty-student lunches, and simply hanging out with friends. Plenty of plugs and Wi-Fi will be available for use while students enjoy food from outside vendors. As evening approaches, the main space will transition to accommodate an assortment of entertainment possibilities, from regular live music and dances to comedy and talent nights. The space will also be conducive to faculty lectures, career development events, and forums as the new design allows for maximum flexibility.”
Chad Kirby, the owner of Goldberg’s, said he has not yet signed a lease but is reasonably confident that he will be a tenant. He said the menu will be similar to the one offered at his Elmwood location: bagels, breakfast and deli sandwiches, pastries and a variety of beverages. Hamburgers and hot dogs will be added. Right now, Kirby said, the plan is to stay open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
“Our bagels are made fresh every day,” said Kirby. “Put a big smear on a fresh Goldberg’s bagel and you will think you have died and gone to heaven (or at least the Lower East Side).”
Toby Chenette, resident district manager for Chartwells, said the scope and details of the convenience store remain undefined, but he and the College are working to nail them down. He envisions a food service line that would offer ethnic or specialized cuisine, as well as an area where grocery store items would be sold. He described the space as “unique and unlike anything that already exists on campus.”
Landscape architect Wes Wazni said his firm’s goal is to “make the outside space as people-oriented as the inside space.” The plans calls for the removal of an exterior wall to visually tie the interior and exterior spaces together. Different types of seating areas would be created, with café-style seating on Vernon Street and fire pits on the side of the building. Wazni said his New Haven-based firm has frequently worked with colleges and universities, especially with Yale.
Audio-visual consultant Jeff Simon said all of the systems will be adaptable, whether for speakers, presentations, dancing or whatever the event requires. There will be large flat-screen TVs with cable and the ability to video stream.
“It’s going to be a student-driven social environment,” said Simon. “It will be accessible, innovative and simple to use.”
The Design Committee, which will be working throughout the coming months to iron out the remaining details and ensure that the end result jibes with the conceptual design, consists of trustees, campus administrators, faculty, and students.