Last week marked the first time that Stokes Hall, Boston College’s newest academic building, opened its doors for classes. The $78 million, 183,000-square foot building is named in honor of a $22 million donation from Patrick T. Stokes, former CEO of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., former chair and current member of the BC Board of Trustees, and BC ’64.
Completed last December, Stokes Hall houses the English, history, philosophy, and theology departments, the College of Arts & Sciences Honors Program, the Arts & Sciences Service Center, the Academic Advising Center, and the First Year Experience offices, as well as significant classroom space and a new Coffee Bar, and represents a noteworthy investment in the humanities at Boston College.
What would become the Stokes Hall project began in 1996, when BC first proposed three connected humanities buildings that would run along College Road from Lyons Hall to McElroy Hall, said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. The proposed building was intended, in part, to honor current University Chancellor and former University President J. Donald Monan, S.J.
“Combining a new academic building-Monan Hall-with a student center that will replace McElroy Commons is rooted in the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, or ‘care of the whole person,'” read the April 9, 1998 issue of the Boston College Chronicle. “By siting academic, dining and co-curricular activity spaces in close proximity, administrators aim to foster faculty-student interaction outside the classroom, thereby enhancing the educational experience of Boston College students.”
BC sought approval for the construction, then termed the “Middle Campus Project,” from the Board of Aldermen of Newton beginning in 1996. While the proposal attained a majority of votes, it lacked the two-thirds supermajority necessary for approval. The University subsequently took Newton to Massachusetts land court, arguing that the city’s decision violated the Dover Amendment, a subsection of Massachusetts General Law that states, in part, “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall … prohibit, regulate or restrict the use of land or structures for religious purposes or for educational purposes on land owned or leased by the commonwealth.”
After a lengthy trial, conducted over several months in 1998, and almost two years of consideration, Court Justice Karyn F. Scheier decided in favor of BC in January of 2001. According to an account of the case on masscases.com, the judge ruled that “BC had demonstrated a ‘pressing need’ to replace ‘outdated and cramped’ facilities while the board failed to demonstrate that applying the FAR requirement to the Middle Campus generally would result in an appreciable advancement of Newton’s legitimate zoning concerns.”
“It cost the city of Newton upwards of $100,000 to defend itself, and Boston College prevailed in court,” Dunn said. “But by the time the court case was resolved, the plans for those three interconnected humanities buildings were obsolete.”
In 2004, the University purchased the land for what is now BC’s Brighton Campus from the Archdiocese of Boston, which in turn led to the design of a new plan for future construction that would integrate the Brighton land. One section of BC’s 10-year Institutional Master Plan Notification Form, submitted in 2007 and approved in 2009, listed proposals to construct, among other buildings, “Stokes Commons, an 85,000 square-foot academic facility to be used as an interim student center and dining hall, [and] a 125,000 square-foot academic facility for the humanities.”
Construction on the finalized plan for Stokes Hall began in October of 2010. According to University officials, despite variations from the original plan, the underlying intent to invest in the humanities at BC remained consistent. “It’s a wise investment for a University whose commitment to liberal arts remains unwavering,” Dunn said.
Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (A&S) David Quigley agreed: “As the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I’m thrilled that we’re kicking off the university’s sesquicentennial year with the opening of Stokes Hall,” he said in an email. “It reminds us all of the vital importance of the liberal arts on this campus, now and on into the future.”
“As much as anything, it was strategically designed to foster interaction between faculty and students,” Dunn said. “We took that concept of cura personalis, and how vital it is to the Jesuit experience, and we brought it to the architects so that they could help to design a building to reinforce that key component of student formation, which is faculty-student interaction. It’s also designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, so that the philosophers and the theologians are speaking, so that history is talking with English, so that the members of the First Year Experience are interacting with faculty and the academic advising center. That was the plan-to foster interdisciplinary collaboration within the humanities.”
“I think Stokes opens up rich possibilities for integration, bringing departments together while providing new spaces for rich student-faculty interaction,” Quigley said. “I especially like the way it connects the underclassmen on Upper Campus to the heart of the university.”
The location of Stokes and the appropriation of BC’s largest green space on Middle Campus, the former “Dustbowl,” garnered a significant amount of controversy when construction began. From a design standpoint, however, Keating said that the location made perfect sense. “The feeling was, it had to be on Middle Campus,” Keating said. “That’s where the academic core of the campus was, and the building was going to be the vehicle for much of the core curriculum.”
After determining a location, the University decided to construct Stokes so as to reflect the architectural heritage of BC. The local architectural firm of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates was hired to design Stokes Hall in keeping with the Gothic design of BC’s original buildings. A programming committee from A&S, including Quigley and his department chairs, consulted with the architects to discuss the placement of departments within the building, according to Keating. Stokes was intended in part to bring all the humanities departments from their separate locations in Carney Hall and Maloney Hall into one location. “We decided that we wanted to create this single building for humanities, and to replace the classrooms in Carney-Carney was considered in tough shape, it really needed significant repair-and our classroom configuration wasn’t optimal,” Keating said. “So we needed a new building to be able to provide more smaller classrooms, and a different variety of classrooms than what Carney offered.
“You don’t build buildings quite like this very often,” Keating said. “You don’t have the opportunity in universities to build such a significant building. But, you know, it’s similar to Bapst or Gasson or Fulton or Devlin, back in its day.
“It’s a high-quality building, there is no question,” he said. “You walk into that building-the materials, the way it’s laid out, the feel of the building-this is a first-class building. That says something about the University’s commitment to the humanities, to undergraduate education, to the student experience.”
As faculty members begin to utilize the new classrooms in Stokes, the commitment to humanities has moved away from the symbolic to the tangible. Responding to a question about investing in humanities rather than the typically higher-demand fields of science, technology, math and engineering (STEM), Keating noted that there was a greater immediate need for a humanities building, considering the state of Carney. “The facilities at Higgins and Merkert were newer and had newer investments,” he said. While a plan for an integrated science building is under way, Keating said that the space available on Middle Campus lent itself to a humanities building. “The science building is a little more complicated in that it requires Nursing to be relocated first. So that domino makes a new science building a little more difficult, and, in fact, this location was ideal for the humanities. This would not have been an ideal location for the sciences-the sciences need to be near Merkert and Higgins.”
Logistics aside, Quigley stressed the importance of teaching the liberal arts at BC. “I’m supportive of the balanced and thoughtful approach that the university’s leadership has taken in recent years, hiring faculty across the humanities and the natural sciences,” he said. “To become the kind of university we’re called to be, it’s imperative that we commit to excellence across the liberal arts. As someone who sees teaching as central to the university, this investment in high-quality teaching spaces is worth celebrating.”