Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interesting place for a college

We shall meet in the place that has no windows.
--GEORGE ORWELL, "1984"

We have two late teenagers in our family, which means we've been on a few college tours of late, specifically focused on small colleges in the Midwest. As has been remarked elsewhere, there is a certain similarity to these tours, and a certain similarity to the campuses themselves: parklike setting, mix of historic buildings and fancy new facilities, people walking purposefully about (assuming classes are in session).

Last weekend I took some students to a conference on a college campus very unlike any our boys have toured. Park University is located on the Missouri River in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. It has its share of attractive old buildings, and the site of an old observatory affords a nice view of the river and the Kansas farm fields on the other side.

But most of the college, including all the facilities we used for our conference, is underground, built out of limestone caves. We walked from the conference area to the dining room through this garage.

The rooms were modern, but retained the cave walls. Here's the entrance to one room...

...while in another room, Coe student Joel McGuire prepared for his presentation standing by the limestone.

They must have the ventilation issues figured out, though there were signs in the garage warning drivers not to idle their vehicles. And more signs than I'm used to seeing in the washrooms warning against putting paper towels in the toilets, so I wonder if plumbing is complicated as well?

My students found the setup intriguing, and I guess I did as well, though I don't find it attractive as a place to work. (Interestingly, if there's anything on Park's website about the unique aspects of their place, or its history, I am unable to find it.) Being able to see the outdoors is an important aspect of place for me: I don't even spend a lot of time in my own basement. I'm glad my office at Coe has a big window overlooking campus!

As Gracen Johnson says in her latest video, "We all know what great places are, not because they feel the same, but because they feel at all." Uniqueness is a plus, but there needs to be more to make a great place.

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