Communication about One Simmons Project lacking for students


Proposed design of campus after the One Simmons project is completed. Courtesy of Simmons University

Abby Vervaeke, Staff Writer

Simmons University is about to start a major renovation with the One Simmons Project. Although some current and prospective students are not opposed to the project, they want more information on how the construction will affect their day-to-day lives.

The renovations include a new residence tower on the academic campus and a move away from the residence campus, according to Simmons’ institutional master plan. Demolition of the Park Science Building will make way for the 20-stories-tall residence hall. The construction of  new science facilities in the Lefavour Building are incorporated in this project. To accommodate new facilities, the library will expand into the student activities space and the student activities space will move to the Management Building. 

A proposed campus design from the One Simmons project
Graphic courtesy of Laura Brink-Pisinski

Simmons announced the project publicly in two community meetings in spring 2019. According to an email from Laura Brink-Pisinski, the chief of staff to the University’s president,  construction begins after commencement in May 2020. Multiple offices and classrooms will have to move to accommodate the renovations when construction begins.    

Despite the looming start date, several students remain out of the loop. 

Ithzamar Valencia, a first-year student from California, heard about the project during a Student Government Association Senate meeting. Initially, Valencia was disappointed that the school plans to abandon the residence campus. 

“I liked that I was in the city and that there’s a walk to class creating a separation between school and home,” said Valencia.  

But to Valencia, it is now the lack of communication– not the project– that is frustrating. She explained that as a student who will be attending Simmons during construction, it is especially disappointing for her. 

“I won’t be telling anyone to come here anytime soon,” Valencia admitted. 

Valencia did not say whether the construction would have influenced her decision to attend Simmons if she had known about it during her college search. 

Currently, admissions does not provide information on the project unless a prospective student asks them about it, according to Liz Vossen, a senior who works as an admissions ambassador. Vossen added that she has never received a question about the project on a campus tour. 

In a press conference with Simmons journalism students, the administration explained their approach to communication about the project. 

According to Brink-Pisinski, the university is currently drafting communications material on the project to send to current and prospective students. President Helen Drinan and Brink-Pisinski  pointed out that the administration wanted to wait to provide more details until the Board of Trustees approved the financial plans for the campus-wide renovations. The Board voted to approve the plans in early February, according to Drinan.

But until the University provides those communication materials, some prospective students may lack information about the institution they are accepting offers from. Until recently, Olivia Ray, who will start at Simmons in September 2020, had never heard of the project. 

“I wish they’d told me about the upcoming construction in any of my four campus visits,” Ray said. “It feels like it was kept on the down-low so people would choose the school, even if that would totally change their mind. I’m lucky it doesn’t change my mind.” 

Drinan explained that multiple construction firms told Simmons that construction would make the University more appealing to prospective students, not less. 

“I’m not opposed to the idea completely,” Ray admitted.  

Despite thinking that the construction could make a positive impression on prospective students, the university opted to hold off on providing them with information.

Although the University held two community meetings on the project in Spring 2019, neither Valencia nor Ray was a part of the Simmons community yet at the time. Since the University published an article in its alumnae magazine and in The Boston Globe explaining the project in Fall 2019, few updates have been provided. 

While the University continues to organize its plans for construction, people like Valencia and Ray only want one thing: transparency.