Additionally, he said moving to a multidisciplinary location further from the dorms, such as HSSC or JRC, would have the potential to bring the department closer to students’ daily lives than it is when located Mears. “I think students would feel a lot less comfortable with us in these flagship buildings that they’re still in,” he said.
The department is keeping student concerns in mind as they develop their use of space at Mears, Shropshire said. The second shift supervisor, who works evenings, has been assigned an office on the opposite side of the South Campus building. Shropshire said the move is to ensure there is no campus security officer working at a window looking directly into the dorms during the evening (first and third shift supervisors will work in a office across the hall that has a window to the main hall).
Shropshire said he hopes to engage more directly with the student body in the future as a way of raising awareness for the department.
College officials and heads of relocated departments say the move is a result of the immediate need for new accessible space on campus for human resources and campus security.
In the case of campus security, director of facilities management Rick Whitney said the building at 1432 East St. had become unsuitable for the department’s “24/7/365” operation, and Shropshire added that an expert who had visited the property had told the College that the building was structurally unstable. College President Anne Harris said Whitney informed her of the need for a new safe space on campus and suggested Mears, which had been empty since the completion of HSSC, as an interim location for the department .
Meanwhile, the human resources department was previously located in the basement of the former glove factory. While it doesn’t have the security issues of the old campus security building, overall it’s an inconvenient home for a department that spends much of its time liaising with d other parts of the College, said Jana Grimes, Grinnell’s human resources manager.
Grimes said she hopes the new location will be “a more centralized space” for the department, which was relatively far from campus at its previous location, making it less accessible to students needing department services.
“Do you want to come to the old glove factory, or do you want to meet somewhere closer to campus?” said Grimes.
Mears Cottage has had several uses over its long history. Built in 1888, it is the second oldest building on campus after Goodnow Hall. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is named after Mary Grinnell Mears, daughter of the town’s founder and benefactor of the College, JB Grinnell.
For the first 90 years of its life, Mears operated as a women’s dormitory, uncommon for Grinnell’s early years when most students boarded off campus. It underwent renovations to accommodate more students in 1904 and was made coeducational in 1978.
The following year, Mears was closed and slated for demolition by the board. A successful student organization stopped the destruction of the building, setting it aside for possible renovation. This was made possible in the late 1980s by a donation from John H. Harris `39 and Lucille Hanson Harris `40, for whom the Harris Center is named.
Mears Cottage reopened in 1986 after extensive renovations. Since then, it has served a variety of purposes, housing various administrative offices and eventually hosting a few humanities departments in the mid-2000s.
Before the full transition from the humanities to the CSSS, Mears was known as the center for students and teachers of English, history and gender, women’s studies and sexuality.
“Mears had a wonderful kind of comfort, and it was fun to have the separation, to have our own place there,” said Professor Erik Simspon, head of the English department. “But I will also say that there was an isolation that came with that and there are so many colleagues that I see now at the CSSS and I could go four months without seeing them when we were at Mears.”
I think there’s more than I think a student could feel if they saw it, especially
if they didn’t have the basic information. But I think the contextual information is also irrelevant to the student observing it. – James Shropshire, director of campus security
In addition to the faculty offices, the first floor of Mears has a living space that would be open to students and host department events throughout the year. This room will remain open to students.
“The CSSS mixes so many things in the same space. It was really nice to have a space dedicated to being an academic space and dedicated to being a work space, but it was a bit more laid back, a bit more community,” said England Major Brenna Hanlon ’22. “However, many years of Grinnell history were embedded in those old rooms that you were in. It really connected me as a student to the history of what this college was all about.”