Contemplative space construction project will soon go to bid after pandemic-related delays

SUNY New Paltz is moving forward with plans to construct a new contemplative space on campus near the Peregrine Complex, as part of our ongoing process of reflecting on the history of our community.

The project has been on hold due to COVID-19 spending restrictions, but campus leadership is hopeful that the project can resume soon and the space may be able to open in 2022.

The College’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Council engaged the campus community in a process during 2017-19 to review names on campus buildings in the Peregrine Complex that honored those who enslaved Africans from the very earliest European presence in New Paltz. That process led to the recommendation and ultimate decision to remove and replace those names.

In its final report, the D&I Council recommended that “…as an educational institution, we must fulfill our responsibility to provide engaging opportunities to interpret and critically engage the history and experiences that have shaped our past and continue to shape our present” and that might include “[Setting] aside a contemplative space that includes historical information and invites community gathering and reflection.” The purpose of such a space is to acknowledge and teach about a fulsome history of our community and the College, including the diverse contributions of indigenous people, enslaved Africans, early European immigrants, and subsequent waves of diverse immigrants.

We formed a working group of faculty, staff, and students in 2019 who studied and provided recommendations on what such a “contemplative space” might look like and possible locations.

Campus leaders chose a different site (the west bank of the Gunk pond, opposite the Peregrine complex) than that recommended by the working group, primarily based on assessment of pedestrian traffic flows, visitation patterns, and facilities maintenance considerations. Because of cost considerations, we opted for some of the “minimalist” plans suggested by the working group.

After Cabinet review and consideration of those recommendations and alternatives, the College engaged one of the architects and designers of a firm that the College works with regularly on facilities projects. The design firm was asked to honor and incorporate the primary themes and concepts the working group identified.

The architect/designer developed a design that we are prepared to implement. This rendering illustrates the basic design concept:

The project was moving along well until the pandemic took hold. We were directed last spring to pause all projects not related to health and safety; some projects that were already in the construction phase resumed. The contemplative space has been on hold, and we are still under directive to curtail all non-essential expenditures. We will soon put the project (to be funded by State University Construction Fund monies) out to bid in anticipation that those restrictions may be lifted in the near future. But the most likely scenario is that at best we would not be able to begin construction until the fall with completion in spring 2022.

Finally, a planned renovation of the plaza in front of the Sojourner Truth Library is, like the contemplative space project, currently on pause. The earliest this might be undertaken would be late 2022 and more likely in 2023.

We will keep you posted on the status and progress of each of these projects and their ongoing relevance to our real and symbolic work to be an inclusive educational community.