October 11, 2022
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Below are my notes from a meeting held at Lafayette College on October 11, 2022, with several dozen community members in attendance. Major points discussed were as follows:
1. The College has hired the Smith Group to develop a master plan. Dr. Hurd stated that the Smith Group will host a focus group for community members to have input into the plan. “I’m committed with my whole heart that this will be an inclusive process. . .You [community members] can participate as much or as little as you want.” (Background: Lafayette’s previous plan, c. 2010, was removed from the College website a few years ago, because the proposed McCartney Street expansion program and other Lafayette projects were not in conformance with it. Since then, the College has operated without a master plan. Dr. Hurd has said that no major new programs will be initiated until there is a new, approved master plan.)
2. At the same time it is developing a master plan, the College has begun a “strategic planning” process that will focus on academic issues such as the potential creation of new fields of study, academic priorities, etc. Dr. Hurd: “We feel a little rudderless.” There is no end date for this process.
3. Hurd was reminded that in the 2018 legal agreement with residents that allowed the McCartney project to proceed, the College was to form an ongoing “Easton Community Partners Committee” (such as used to exist before being dissolved by former president Alison Byerly). No such committee exists. Dr. Hurd said that the College is working on putting together some form of ongoing structure. She agreed that this should be ongoing and separate from any community input on the master or strategic plans. She recognizes that College Hill, Easton and the Lehigh Valley all have different needs that should be addressed. The College will send out a letter of interest to residents who might wish to serve on such a committee or committees.
4. Lafayette will soon post a job seeking a ‘Director of Community Relationships.’
5. The McCartney building that opened in 2020 was to be Phase 1 of the campus enrollment expansion announced in 2016. Although enrollment has increased by a few hundred students since then, there are no current plans for future enrollment growth. Dr. Hurd said she didn’t think there was any current “appetite for growth” and that she’d be “floored” if the planning process led to any calls for aggressive growth.
6. This winter, the College intends to begin construction of Phase 2 (McCartney Street between March and Clinton Terrace) simply to address current dormitory overcrowding issues, including the modular ‘barracks’ assembled on-campus a few years ago. (Background: originally, the expansion was to be in four phases: two buildings on McCartney Street, one on Cattell—which was scrapped after much community opposition; the site is now the small park across from Wawa—and a dorm on campus to replace Watson Courts, which would be demolished. That project has also been shelved, at least for now.)
7. The Phase 2 building on McCartney will have retail on the first floor. Community input will be sought to help determine what type of retail might be included. (Background: the original plan called for a campus and community health center on the first floor. That concept has apparently gone away.)
8. There will be an open house on November 18 for the new Portlock Black Cultural Center on McCartney Street. Details to be announced. (Background: the 2018 legal agreement required that the College relocate a historic Clinton Terrace building design by noted Easton architect William Michler. That building was scheduled for demolition, along with the then existing Portlock Black Cultural Center, as part of the Phase 2 dorm project. The College did move the Michler building, unnecessarily demolishing five other historic buildings in the process. All of that planning happened before Dr. Hurd became Lafayette president.)
9. Hurd was repeatedly asked about all the historic buildings the College has demolished in recent years (for the two McCartney projects, the Portlock Center, along College Avenue, behind Williams Art Center, etc.) She said at one point: “I’m not afraid to apologize. It will not be that way while I’m here.”
10. Hurd was asked if the College will continue to purchase properties in the College Hill neighborhood. She said it might, but only “to house our faculty.” There are no plans to demolish anything. (Background: according to an October 7, 2022 article in the student newspaper, The Lafayette, the College owns more than 120 properties—17% of all properties—off campus on College Hill. Since Dr. Hurd has been president, we’re aware of only one property purchased by the College: across the street from Kirby gym.)
11. Hurd expressed concern that traffic on Cattell Street is hazardous. She recognized that because it is a Penn Dot road and because Forks Township is experiencing so much growth it will not be easy to resolve Cattell’s problems, but she is hoping to address them. She said it should not serve as a barrier isolating students from the rest of the College Hill neighborhood. She remarked several times that as resident, she wants to become part of the College Hill neighborhood.
12. Hurd and several residents commented on the growth options available to the College going forward: on-campus, South Campus, Metzgar Field, Bushkill Drive, vacant buildings downtown, the West Ward, etc. Development downtown and/or in the West Ward could be of great potential benefit to both the community and Lafayette students. (Background: the Easton Comprehensive Plan 2035 calls for “Lafayette to have more physical presence outside of College Hill.” Both the College and the City ignored this during the McCartney Street expansion project.)
Comment from residents:
‘There’s been a lot of damage done [by the College] to the College Hill neighborhood.’
‘Anything that contributes to the historic district is historic: this applies to the campus itself. . .[for example,] Hogg Hall was the site of the conference that led to the creation of the Appalachian Trail. . . There needs to be a Lafayette College Preservation Plan.’
‘Cattell Street should not be a DMZ (separating students from residents).’ Dr. Hurd: ‘Cattell Street should be made more attractive.’
‘The College should consider creating a historic preservation major.’ Dr. Hurd: ‘[Right now] we don’t even have a campus architect.’
‘The College should integrate contemporary with historic buildings [rather than simply demolish historic buildings].
‘This community was built on values’ [that should be respected by the College].
I wrote in my meeting notes: “Architecture not decoration.” I’ve no idea what this was referring to, but it seems like a good idea.
Two comments unrelated to the meeting:
1. I’ve never really known who the driving force was behind the College’s 2016 plan to expand onto McCartney Street and change the City’s zoning to accommodate it. Dr. Byerly? Vice President of Finance Roger Demareski? The City itself? Lafayette’s Board of Trustees? The role of the Board of Trustees remains undefined and undiscussed. At some point, the community will need to find out if the Trustees are in favor of a cooperative relationship with the community or if—as has been the case since at least 2014—they will choose to ignore it when it comes to developing plans and implementing policies.
2. As many of you know, last spring a College Hill resident began asking the College why it wasn’t paying full property taxes on the McCartney Street mixed-use building, as it had promised to do. It turned out that Northampton County had reassessed the property once it became a vacant lot, but not after construction was completed two years ago. After the question was raised, the property was finally reassessed. Going forward, we expect Lafayette to be billed and to pay the nearly $200,000 per year it should owe the County, City and School District.