Oldenborg construction delayed to at least spring 2021

Oldenborg language building vegetation on either side
Renovations to Oldenborg, Pomona College’s Center for Modern Languages and residence hall, will only be occurring after spring 2021. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

The demolition and reconstruction of Pomona College’s Oldenborg Center will now begin no earlier than spring 2021 — a delay from the previous estimate of 2020 — according to Anne Dwyer, the building’s faculty director.

The news is the latest development in an ongoing conversation about the future of the college’s language residence hall, which houses roughly 140 students, a dining hall and class space. 

In November 2018, Dwyer said the demolition could start as early as 2020.

“I don’t think the project has been exactly ‘pushed back,’” Dwyer said. “But other things have asserted themselves and had more interest and more donors. … These projects do take a long time.”

Originally, Oldenborg’s 2020 reconstruction was scheduled to accompany that of the Rains Center gym, which is set to be completed by 2021. 

That plan, however, is no longer feasible, and Oldenborg’s reconstruction will have to wait, Dwyer said. She said she couldn’t elaborate further.

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“I have been told that Oldenborg, as it stands … will still be absolutely functional next academic year,” she said.

Dwyer cited Oldenborg’s aging infrastructure and outdated layout as reasons for the project. She said that while the concept of an immersive living and learning language environment is “cutting edge, the building no longer reflects that.” 

A Pomona strategic planning report in 2015 recommended the project, stating that Oldenborg will be “renovated and reconstructed” to accommodate an expanded international center, a new plaza and gardens and upgraded student residences. 

The idea of a new Oldenborg, however, has been in the works since Pomona created an Oldenborg Task Force in 2003, according to Dwyer.

“[Oldenborg is] incredibly old and at the end of its useful lifespan” – Bob Robinson, Pomona’s Assistant Vice President of facilities

The early stages of Oldenborg’s reconstruction project are already underway, and the college seems to have a plan to move toward construction. Over the summer, faculty discussed designs and layout, according to Dwyer. 

In September, the college began a bidding process with architects, some of whom have already toured the current building. By late October, administrators will review final proposals from architects, which include sketches, layouts and a rough cost estimate. There is already movement within the college to recruit donors for the project, Dwyer said.

Built in 1966, Oldenborg has had issues with maintenance and accessibility. 

Last fall, for instance, Oldenborg’s plumbing issues “resulted in clogged pipes and several fallen-in ceiling tiles,” TSL reported.

Pomona’s assistant vice president of facilities Bob Robinson said Oldenborg requires more maintenance than other buildings on campus, and maintenance can be more difficult. 

“It’s incredibly old and at the end of its useful lifespan,” he said. 

Plumbing and toilet issues have become persistent problems due to backups within the pipes, which are embedded in the concrete and difficult to access, according to Robinson.

Oldenborg is also not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as most student rooms are only accessible by staircase, Dwyer said. The current proposal for the new building includes a residence hall, office and programming space and a dining hall. 

While there had been some discussion among faculty and other stakeholders about merging Frank and Oldenborg dining halls into one, that plan “was considered too exorbitant at the moment,” according to Dwyer, but she said she couldn’t provide a cost estimate. 

The new Oldenborg will be “improved, but not drastically larger,” she said. When asked, Dwyer did not clarify who the other stakeholders were.

One of the biggest concerns from students about the project is its impact on housing.

Oldenborg houses 140 residents in mostly singles and large four-person suites and runs a completely separate room draw process from the other Pomona residence halls.

“It seems like it would be kind of a hassle to tear it down because … a lot of people live here,” Oldenborg resident Naomi Tilles PO ’22 said. “If they couldn’t completely replace it over the summer, it might cause more issues.”

Pomona’s Housing and Residence Life administration is still figuring out where to house the 140 students who would normally live there, according to Dwyer.

Oldenborg also offers daily foreign language dining and programming. Once construction begins, Dwyer said that programming will likely relocate to Walker Hall. 

Regardless of location, the language dining will continue “in some way or another,” Dwyer said via email.

“There would be a few awkward years of transition that should end in a much better home for Oldenborg programming,” she said

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