Colby College sits atop Mayflower Hill, a 714-acre campus overlooking the small city of Waterville, Maine. The College is as celebrated for its classic New England quaintness as its rigorous liberal arts curriculum, and recent years have seen big interest in this prestigious Little Ivy. Despite an acceptance rate of less than 10%, the College’s enrollment has increased by twenty percent between the fall of 2011 and the fall of 2021, climbing to 2,200 students. Though the school had planned new housing to accommodate its growth, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a more urgent response when an influx of students who deferred enrollment in the 2020 and 2021 academic years would finally be ready to come to campus.
In August of 2021 – in a partnership with Consigli Construction, KBS Builders, and Klopfer Martin Design Group’s landscape architects – we were given the nearly impossible goal of designing, building, and occupying dormitories for 200 new students… within the next year. Through a collaborative and carefully coordinated effort, we were able to deliver four high-performance residence halls, each containing 50 beds, in just 10 months.
The Johnson Pond Houses utilize modular construction, allowing multiple phases of the build to happen simultaneously. Concrete foundation panels were cast in the campus’s parking lots while sitework and excavation progressed nearby. At the same time, building modules were constructed in the KBS factory and only delivered to the site when ready for assembly. A strategic hybridization of factory- and field- built amenities allowed for elements like roofs, awnings, and porch extensions to also be fabricated offsite and later installed on the modules once they were set. As the first dormitory was completed in August of 2022, the construction fence began retreating through campus and shrinking the jobsite until the fourth and final building was ready for occupancy in January of 2023.
With such an expedited project timeline, Colby College initially assumed the resulting structures would be temporary and eventually need to be replaced. But as the design for the dormitories took shape, it quickly became clear that they would be permanent fixtures on campus. Successfully satisfying both an urgent need for residences and the College’s high standards for quality, sustainability, and design hints at something greater: what is possible for addressing housing shortages in the rest of the state (and beyond)?