Poughkeepsie, NY — Multiple use has been the hallmark of Kenyon Hall, and made it a start-of-the art athletic facility when Vassar College's fifth president, Henry Noble MacCracken, christened it in 1932. Named for Helen Kenyon, the first woman to head Vassar's Board of Trustees, with an interior structure planned by Alice Belding, the longtime chair of the college's department of physical education, the building included an indoor swimming pool (among the largest at the time it was constructed), a bowling alley, and tennis and fencing facilities.
Kenyon's versatility allowed it to remain the campus's main athletic facility for decades, evolving to meet both the academic and recreational needs of Vassar students. More recently, with a growing campus, and the addition of two new sports facilities beginning in the 1980s, the building primarily emerged as the home for the Vassar dance program, and for the school's volleyball and squash teams. To secure this new identity for Kenyon's future, and to address the college's pressing need for new classroom space, Vassar recognized an opportunity to usher in the building's twenty-first century renaissance.
Among the many highlights of its newly completed $21 million renovation, Kenyon Hall now accommodates three major components of Vassar College life: premier athletic facilities for intercollegiate volleyball and squash; refined dance studios, and the college's first dedicated dance theater; and six "smart classrooms" with a variety of technological capacities.
In keeping with the important role that architectural preservation plays on Vassar's campus, President Fergusson wanted the new Kenyon Hall to maintain its historic infrastructure while accommodating both the campus's space and modernization needs. In consultation with the selected architect, David Mayner of Gluckman Mayner Architects, as well as college staff and students, the new design met all those needs and more.
Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, and dance studio improvements
True to Kenyon Hall's historic roots, the building's original front entrance and wood-paneled lobby now serves as a handsome entryway to the new Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater.
The 5,700 square foot dance theater, includes a "fully sprung" dance stage measuring 36′ x 36′ with surrounding "wings" space, and raked seating for 244 people. Ingeniously rising from the site of the former Kenyon swimming pool, the theater meshes well with the rest of the new Kenyon, providing appropriate performance space for dance students and visiting dance troupes, as well as serving as a rehearsal and studio space.
The architects preserved the character and numerous key features of the historic swimming hall, from its tile blocks to custom lighting fixtures. The great unifying barrel vault ceiling has been updated with acoustically absorbing plaster, and will be illuminated indirectly, from below. Even the excavated swimming pool was maximized, to hold (and hide) the new air conditioning system.
Led by a generous gift from Vassar alumna Martha Rivers Ingram, in honor of President Fergusson's twenty years of service, the theater will be the permanent home of the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT). The troupe will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2007, and each year offers academic credit and performance opportunities to approximately thirty Vassar students admitted by audition. VRDT's repertoire features modern dance, classical ballet, and jazz works.
Adjacent to the new theater, a dance support facility has also been added to accommodate a "green room" with adjoining women's and men's changing rooms, a loading dock for scenery and set building materials, and costume-making, office and storage spaces.
Floor-to-ceiling upgrades have been made to all three of the Kenyon dance studios. One of the two larger studios (both of which measure 2,650 square feet) will now serve as the central rehearsal space and warm-up area for the VRDT — an enhanced audio-visual system, and new barres, mirrors, and lighting are among the improvements students and faculty will enjoy. Performers who have completed warm-ups or rehearsals in the upstairs studios will also have easy walking access to the new Fergusson Theater downstairs.
An exciting new feature of Kenyon is the addition of so-called "smart classrooms," technologically savvy spaces where multi-media resources and teaching tools are available to enhance the classroom conversation and presentations. These six new classrooms are all set up as "double horseshoes," with semicircular rows and a second tier of seating raised above the first. The four larger classrooms are 950 square feet and seat 35 students, and the two smaller rooms are 770 square feet and seat thirty. Students will share a common vantage point, and the open seating design will provide teachers an exciting variety of ways to apply the room's advanced technology.
The classrooms can be reached via the new west entrance to Kenyon Hall, and an adjoining open space courtyard given in honor of Jeanne and I-Shuan Sun, by their daughter, alumna Lucy Sun. The courtyard is approximately 5,000 square feet and includes an elevated lawn with a concrete bench, two White Barked Himalayan Birch trees, three Japanese Stewartia trees, and flowering groundcover. Surrounded by beautiful plantings, this new pathway will also provide easy access to Kenyon's upgraded athletic facilities.
The further improvements to Kenyon Hall live up to the spirit of its original design, and a founding principle of the college: to ensure that athletics at Vassar address the well-being of the whole student, and not be limited to "calisthenics."
Vassar now has one of the only dedicated collegiate volleyball gymnasiums in the country, with a new modular plastic court, translucent fiberglass windows, uplighting, and bleachers. The 10,000 square foot gym features one main game court in the center, with two overlapping practice courts. It brings the best of the new — flooring, lighting, windows, bleachers, audio system, and climate control — while maintaining the classic, intimate atmosphere for which Kenyon is revered.
The latest renovations to Kenyon Hall also complete the recent upgrading of Vassar's six International Rules squash courts — named in honor of alumna Mary Rousmaniere Gordon — that feature glass back walls for spectator viewing. Among many benefits, improvements to the courts have made it possible for the college to host the annual Vassar Class of '32 Tournament, on the Women's International Squash Players Association (WISPA) circuit. The college has also extended its improved resources to create KidzSquash, an after school enrichment program — young people gain athletic and academic support from Vassar students, through this collaboration with downtown Poughkeepsie's' Catharine Street Community Center.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.