Athenaeum Renovation Reflects a Changing CMC

Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum underwent a major renovation this summer—its first since the building was built in 1982. The Athenaeum, known to students as the “Ath,” is a conference and academic center on CMC’s campus that houses a dining room, lounges, and guest accommodations for visiting speakers.

According to Ath Director Bonnie Snortum, the Athenaeum serves to increase intellectual discourse between faculty, students, and administration by bringing speakers and holding programs. Jake Petzold CM ’12, a Student Fellow at the Ath, said the renovation is just one part of CMC’s overall maturation as a school, which has been reflected in changes to the Athenaeum over the past several years.

According to Snortum, the renovation was mostly cosmetic, though it also brought in new technology.

“Nothing structurally was changed,” Snortum said. “In that many years, things such as lighting, sound, air, [and] the kitchen needed updating. All these things were addressed by the renovations.”

Snortum said the renovation included improvements in green technology, most notably in the kitchen area, where improvements in energy efficiency and the installation of a composting system will make the Ath more sustainable. Excess food from the kitchen is composted and reused in CMC’s community garden.

The Athenaeum also received a cosmetic lift with new flooring, furniture, and paint.

“It’s brighter,” Petzold said. “The space of the dining room… is much lighter [and] brighter; it’s a great space.”

The only major structural change, according to Snortum, is that several windows off of the main dining hall have been converted into doors, allowing for outdoor seating. However, the capacity and design of the Ath remain the same.

“It’s not a new Athenaeum; it’s still the same space,” Petzold said. “It’s just been re-approached.”

The cost of the Ath renovation project, which was led by design firm IA Interior Architects, totaled $4.5 million.

Snortum said there are additional plans to renovate the offices and guest apartments on the second floor of the Ath, but those will probably not be put into action until at least next summer.

The renovation project grew out of calls from Athenaeum trustees and members of the CMC administration that it was “time to upgrade.” Both Petzold and Snortum said the renovation project was part of CMC’s overall transformation.

“[The Athenaeum is] reflective of what CMC is now,” Petzold said. “It was just sort of time. The building was built in 1982, and it was time to update,” he added.

Petzold also connected the renovation of the Ath to the changing nature of CMC, though he said he does not expect the Ath to change its programming as a result of the renovation.

“I think it’s hard to miss the fact that CMC is changing,” he said. “The changes are about the physical space, but I think the idea is to reflect more changes of the school as a whole rather than the Athenaeum.”

According to Snortum, because the Ath receives a lot of student input for its programming, speakers, and events at the Ath have reflected changes in CMC’s student body over the years. While she said these changes are unrelated to the renovation of the Athenauem, they continue to shape Ath programming.

“I think you’re getting much more of a civic-oriented and diverse school,” said Petzold, who also noted that some of the programming at the Ath over the past few years and in the upcoming year reflects this change.

“I don’t think it’s changing in a drastic new direction, but there’s always been a focus on diversity,” Petzold said. “Two years ago… there was a series on ’40 Years After Stonewall’ and where the gay rights movement is now, and that was kind of exciting and new.”

Petzold said that a friend of his parents thought he would never see the day when an openly gay person would speak at the Ath.

The shift toward more diverse programming at the Ath continues this year with Shifting Perceptions: Celebrating the Spectrum of Leadership, which Petzold described as “a reaction to the masculine culture of CMC.” According to Petzold, Shifting Perceptions focuses on the leadership of women, gay men, and lesbians at CMC and in the world.

According to Snortum, the Athenaeum has seen increased student interest this year.

“The student response has really been positive,” she said. Petzold agreed.

“For a lot of students, it feels more comfortable [and] a lot less stuffy,” he said. “So far I’ve been very happy with attendance this year.”

Petzold said he hopes that this trend in student interest will continue. Some of the speakers planned for this year include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner.

Snortum expressed excitement for the renovated Ath. “It’s the future, not the past,” she said.

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