An initial rendering of the newly developed Lombardo Welcome Center from fandm.edu. Assistant Director of Project Management Sheldon Wenger said past renderings are about 95 percent accurate to the current project design.
The construction of a 25-foot-tall ampersand will push Franklin & Marshall College’s counseling services partially online for several months.
On or around October 9th, Poole Anderson—a Harrisburg-based construction company responsible for the Susan & Benjamin Winter Visual Arts Center— will begin building the Samuel N. and Dena M. Lombardo Welcome Center in College Square.
“I’ve worked here for almost 15 years,” said Sheldon Wenger, Assistant Director of Project Management at the college. “And it does seem like you can drive by our campus and not really get the feel that you’re entering an institution of higher education… This is for prospective students and their families.”
Since its official announcement in December, local coverage of the Welcome Center has focused on the Lombardo family’s philanthropy and its impact on local educational institutions, including its $5 million donation to F&M during the college’s Now to Next campaign.
Less attention has been paid to the construction’s imminent impact on the businesses that occupy College Square, including the Student Wellness Center (SWC), which provides both medical and mental health care to students in partnership with Penn Medicine/Lancaster General Health.
While construction was initially set to begin in August and end by President’s Day—a big admissions deadline for the college—lengthy city approval processes and obtaining permits delayed the construction’s start. Approvals often take two to three months to process, and an issue with the Welcome Center’s proposed stormwater management infrastructure caused additional setbacks.
“Our hope is that we can move them into that space and open it up in time for that busier time of the year,” Wenger said. “As of right now, it is still achievable, but it is getting to be more of a challenge every day as we’re continually waiting to get started on the project.”
The initial phase of construction will focus on the outside of 931 Harrisburg Avenue and include fencing off half of the building, eliminating certain entrance and exit options. Some doors and walkways will be impacted by construction overhead. There will always be at least one available entry point, however.
Loud noise and visually distracting elements will make it impossible for student counseling services to continue operations as normal. Whereas the SWC’s medical offices are located internally, the counseling offices wrap around the perimeter of the building, making them most vulnerable to construction changes.
“Every office, luckily, has beautiful big windows facing out,” said Meagan Howell-Brogan, Head of Counseling Services. According to Wenger, contractors will be working directly outside of them, on the large decorative ampersand, painting the window frames, replacing the overhangs, and installing a new roof. In a space intended for privacy, noise and human labor complicate therapy on the outskirts of the SWC. “It simply doesn’t seem possible to conduct therapy as usual in our offices while the demolition and early stages of this project are happening.”
According to counseling services, some offices impacted by construction will move to three identified interior spaces, which will be quieter and ensure student confidentiality. The remaining staff members will use telehealth services for appointments, rotating in such a way that every counselor will be in-person some days and remote on others. Howell-Brogan hopes that they will be able to move back to the usual system at an undetermined date in the spring of 2024. Construction will likely continue well into next semester.
“For students that are unable to secure a private space for remote therapy sessions, we have identified two offices in Harris that students will be able to sign up to use anonymously,” she said. “And that will be available during usual SWC/counseling services hours.”
The room reservation system will soon be communicated to house deans, House Advisors, and the SWC front desk staff, as well as through the SWC website.
The COVID-19 pandemic has popularized the use of telehealth and expanded its accessibility, as remote medical appointments increased by over 750% in the first few months of the pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the vast majority of psychologists find telehealth effective, and other reports indicate that the quality of medical service does not decline when remote.
“Considering that this construction was not something that the SWC asked for, I think that the SWC has adapted really well to the circumstances, still being able to offer counseling, both in person and virtual, rather than moving everyone virtual or canceling altogether,” said Sarah Forkin, President of Active Minds. Active Minds is a student organization on campus dedicated to expanding awareness of mental health. “I think that the SWC specifically has made appropriate and logical decisions in order to continue to get students counseling sessions while protecting their privacy while the construction is happening.”
F&M’s facilities management team initially considered renovating a building on College Avenue to house the Lombardo Welcome Center, but the space failed to meet ADA necessary guidelines. Invasive renovations, like tearing down walls or altering doorways, “triggers an aspect of the ADA that requires 20% of the cost of the project to be spent on ADA improvements,” according to Alison Hobbs for a past story. Because the Welcome Center is funded through an inflexible donation—$5 million—the project has to stick to its precise budget.
Further details of construction on College Square will be available in the near future. Wenger has informed The College Reporter that new design drawings will soon be ready for release, as well as site maps that will help students navigate around construction to reach their desired destinations within 931 Harrisburg Avenue.
Senior Sarah Nicell is the Editor-in-Chief of The College Reporter. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.