Concept plan reviewed for Princeton University’s Hobson College

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Princeton University during a calm winter day.

Princeton University aims to construct a new residential college that would replace the several buildings comprising First College.

The concept plan for the new Hobson College was reviewed by the Princeton Planning Board at a meeting on Feb. 3.

The new residential college is named after Mellody Hobson and will be the first residential college at Princeton University named for a Black woman, according to the university.

The plan to replace First College, which was also previously known as Wilson College, proposes the demolition of seven existing First College residential structures for the new structure for Hobson College. The majority of the buildings were built in the 1960s.

“The buildings that currently comprise of First College do not successfully accommodate the needs of a residential college. We have an opportunity with the capacity in our system to vacate these buildings and build a purpose built college,” said Ron McCoy, architect for Princeton University during the university’s presentation. “These buildings are not viable for the type of community we are trying to create.”

The university will preserve part of Wu Hall that serves as the dining hall for Butler College. The new structure will be a single building containing multiple wings.

Hobson College would consist of 270,000 square feet and the location site is adjacent to Elm Drive to the west of the site, and Goheen Walk bounds the south of the site. The location is also between Dillon Gymnasium and McCosh Health Center on campus.

If the project were to be approved by the planning board the new residential project would accommodate 500 undergraduate students. The breakdown of undergraduate students is about 175 first-year students, 175 sophomores, 75 juniors, and 75 seniors.

There will also be 10 resident graduate students and one resident professional, according to concept plan documents.

The Hobson College residential building replacing the existing building structures that comprise First College adds more beds.

“There would 390 existing beds on this site that would be removed and the project will add 503 beds, so a little bit denser than existing population of beds on this site,” McCoy said.

The building’s upper levels are planned to have small- and medium-sized lounges, restrooms, study spaces and six small kitchens. Contained inside the structure are a planned multipurpose room, a common room, a library, and two seminar rooms, according to documents.

The site would also provide space for 207 bike parking spaces.

Hobson College will be connected to the university’s geo-exchange system that is currently being developed on campus.

“That system (Hobson College) will connect to the existing Princeton Central Plant and will be tied together with the campus geothermal system,” McCoy said. “The goal is to begin the geothermal work this summer and we will spend 12 months more or less doing the drilling on site. That will capture two summers and an academic year. Then we would go into the actual construction of the building.”

For stormwater management on site the concept plan proposes porous pavers, green roofs, bioretention, and subsurface infiltration.

Municipal Planner Michael LaPlace questioned the look of the new residential college during the review.

“This just does not look like central campus to me at all. The colors, the massing, the height seems to me to look more like corporate and very fish out of water,” he said.

McCoy responded by stating that the university has a very diverse campus.

“We have a tradition of working with architects who are able to be very sensitive to the traditions of campus, but we also see architecture as an artistic discipline that continues to evolve,” McCoy said. “This is a concept design. We have not specified the brick, we are working on it. The lighter color does lighten the building and gives a lighter presence. I think a darker color would accentuate the massiveness of the building.”

In 2020, Wilson College was renamed First College after the university announced following a Princeton University Board of Trustees vote that President Woodrow Wilson’s name was going to be removed from the both the college and School of Public and International Affairs.

The name was removed due to the trustee conclusion that Wilson’s racist policies and thinking made his name on the college and School of Public Policy inappropriate, according to university officials.

The name change also came during public protests nationwide in 2020 about the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

The buildings part of First College include Wilcox Hall, 1915 Hall, Gauss Hall, 1939 Hall, and 1937 Hall.