Oldenborg Center renovation to start as early as 2020

Pomona College plans to demolish its Oldenborg Center, replacing it with a new residence hall. (Adam Kubota • The Student Life)

Renovations for Pomona College’s Oldenborg Center, a 5C language hall, dining hall, and academic administrative office is in the works, with demolition of the building starting as early as 2020, according to Anne Dwyer, faculty director of Oldenborg. Reconstruction after that could take up to 18 months.

There have been plans to remodel Oldenborg since 2015, when a Pomona strategic planning report recommended a “new public plaza, entry courtyard and gardens at Oldenborg International Center.”

Dwyer is in charge of planning the renovations alongside staff and Oldenborg representatives in meetings as recent as last month with Pomona’s Board of Trustees.

So far, Dwyer said that “the trustees support building a new residence hall, but it is really upon the faculty and administration to pitch why Oldenborg needs a dining hall,” as well as more specific requests for “a residence hall that is up to date, that is accessible, that has space for language halls and apartments for language residence.”

Katya Pollock PO ’21, a current resident in the Chinese language hall in Oldenborg, described plumbing issues with the current building.

“A lot of toilets have been getting clogged, and there was some issue of sewage breaking through the ceiling,” Pollock said, referring to an incident earlier this fall in which plumbing issues resulted in clogged pipes and several fallen-in ceiling tiles.

Oldenborg was constructed in 1966 as one of the first-of-its-kind immersive language-learning residence halls and international programming hubs. It first housed 144 students in five language halls.

Pollock said “the biggest issue is the layout and how difficult it is to get to place to place and have spontaneous interactions and get-togethers. … It’s difficult to have those conversations where you learn about the people you’re living with.”

Jared Lee PO ’21, who lives in the Japanese hall, echoed Pollock.

“It’s less bonded than freshman year, where people live closer together in sponsor groups,” Lee said.

Since 1966, Oldenborg has expanded to six co-ed language halls with 136 students and six language residents, two self-instructional language programs in Persian and Swahili, and 20 languages offered each week at language tables in the dining hall.

“The dining hall is probably our most successful programming aspect,” Dwyer said. “The dining hall is really one of the few places where the 5Cs come together … crossing various kinds of boundaries, not just linguistic ones, but class, profession, age, in a way that’s pretty rare in colleges. We need to convey that having a strong language dining hall for at least one meal a day is absolutely important and essential.”

After several goal-oriented meetings have already occurred, the committee is preparing to begin its next steps. Dwyer said that “the board is hopeful they will have enough information to make decisions about moving forward at the next meeting in December.”

A green light from the trustees at that upcoming meeting, Dwyer said, could begin a planning stage involving architects.

“In a normal building process on a campus, just that planning stage could take 18 months, and only then would you start seeing changes on the ground,” she said.

After this stage, it could be another 18 months to complete construction, during which plans are still in early stages for relocating students, staff, and language residents to alternative housing, according to Frank Bedoya, Pomona’s Associate Dean of Campus Life and Director of Housing and Operations. Plans to relocate and continue language-based dining hall services are still uncertain.

“At this point, we really need student support,” Dwyer said. “We need to hear from students — not just international, but domestic students — that [Oldenborg] is something that’s kinda unique. There aren’t many colleges that have this.”

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