White House to Nollen House and Beyond ...
"Favorite campus hang-out for bridge fiends, ping pong enthusiasts, jitter-bugs, and just plain loungers, the White House after two years of successful management is now well on its way to becoming a popular Grinnell Tradition."
This quote from an anonymous student writer illustrates how far "The White House," or Nollen House as we now know it, has come in the last 70 years. The house was colloquially named in its early years for its neoclassical columns similar to the famous residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is ironic that the house that now provides space for the president (of Grinnell College) went through a name change.
Nollen House, built as a residence in 1902 by David Morrison of Morrison-Ricker Glove Factory, was acquired by the College on Sept. 15, 1937, and preserves the namesake of past Grinnell College President John Scholte Nollen. Since that time, it has been a student recreation center, an Officers' Candidate School office, faculty housing, space for the Department of Art, a women's' dormitory, and administrative offices.
Now, for the first time since 1972, Nollen House is undergoing a major renovation.
Before work began this fall, the house lacked an elevator and was not well-equipped to accommodate all visitors. It was not efficiently heated and cooled, and had no restrooms on the first floor. An old house doesn't function well as an office building, and clearly, the need for renovation was great.
Vice-President for Institutional Planning Marci Sortor has been working closely with the building's occupants, project architects, and builders. Sortor stresses the need to modernize for accessibility, but mentions other changes as well. "Grappling with accessibility would mean an extensive renovation, and you start to wonder, what else can you accomplish?"
As it turns out, you can accomplish a lot. When work is completed next summer, Nollen House will be accessible to everyone and have mechanical systems capable of efficiently keeping occupants comfortable. Staff in the Office of Institutional Research will move from the John Chrystal Center into their own space. Deans and associate deans will have the new opportunity to collaborate freely, since they will share the second floor. And of course, President Russell K. Osgood will keep his office, and there will be room for his support staff.
Sortor is happy with progress at this time. Mark Godar, director of Facilities Management, who also has been working with Sortor and the architect, agrees. He too points out the need for accessibility. "While it is not possible to make every residential property the College owns fully accessible, it is great to see significant properties like Macy House and Nollen House made accessible, and at the same time, better able to serve the College now and into the future." Godar takes comfort in the fact that the successful Macy House renovation was done by the same company; the College is hoping for similar results.
Perhaps the best part of the renovation to date is the fact that President Osgood decided not to move out of his office. He went without water for three weeks and stays warm on cool days with a portable heater. "The people in the science center had to live through a renovation," he explains. "I thought, why can't I?" He also cites using the office as a larger meeting space than the temporary administrative trailer, "Mobile Unit West" as it has been dubbed, can provide.
Next summer the diligent archivists in the Iowa Room at Burling Library can add a new event to the ledger in the Nollen House folder. Fortunately, every future Grinnellian will not only be able to read the Nollen House folder, but will also be able to visit the house and see for themselves just how accessible it is.