Buntrock Commons, now a well-known student center among liberal arts colleges for its size, structure and facilities, opened officially eight years ago with great fanfare. Despite the enthusiasm for the project, however, the building of the new student center did not occur without controversy.
The planning for the new student commons began as early as August of 1995. The actual construction of the project did not begin until 1997. The main obstacle standing in the way of Buntrock's construction was, in fact, its location. Buntrock stands on the location of the former Ytterboe Hall, a dormitory considered dear to many alumni. Tim Schroer, director of Buntrock Commons, called it a "beautiful old building that was falling down."
Alumni hoped to preserve the former Ytterboe Hall under a Minnesota Historic Sites Act that requires buildings to be left standing for the sake of their historic value.
According to Schroer, however, "[Ytterboe] was uninhabitable and it was a fire-trap. "Protesting alumni managed to delay the project by making bond payments to make up for construction delay. However, within a day of missing one such payment, the court ruled in favor of destroying the old Ytterboe. Construction began in 1997.
Schroer remarked how integral Buntrock has become to student life. "Every student here doesn't know anything but Buntrock or Tostrud. Those of us who have been around for awhile wonder, how did we exist without this place?" Before Buntrock was unveiled in 1999, Dittman Center served as the student commons.
"Now that Buntrock has been standing for eight years, St. Olaf is getting ready to make some improvements. We're trying to get the fireplace in Fireside to work," Schroer said.
St. Olaf has delayed using the fireplace because of a variety of hazards. "Some of it has to do with the pressure of the building," Schroer said. "Basically the pressure is off; there's not enough draw for the smoke to go up into the chimney -- it bellows back into Fireside. They were doing a pressure test last week or this week." Schroer stated that St. Olaf is also investigating using coal, gas, wood or corn cobs for fuel.
Schroer also noted that St. Olaf is planning to spruce up the Commons by reupholstering the furniture in both Fireside and the Pause.
"When the building was built, we bought incredibly high quality furniture so it was really expensive. It's held up -- just the surface needs to be redone," he said. Along with reupholstering, most of Buntrock is being recarpeted. In their recarpeting, St. Olaf is taking into account environmental concerns.
"We're replacing regular carpet with carpet tile; it's incredibly environmentally friendly. The amount of waste you throw away is much, much less. Also, it uses much less glue to put down, and it has recycled fibers in it; you only need water to clean it," Schroer said. "If you get a really bad stain or a really bad rip, all you have to do is just replace the tile."
Finally, Schroer hopes to improve the upkeep of Buntrock by managing the backpack pile-up outside of Stav Hall. He is encouraging the use of current cubbies and hopes to build more in the future. In the meantime, however, he hopes that students will at least "try and leave a good walking space available for others." He notes that maneuvering is especially difficult for students on crutches.
The Commons cost a total of $39,250,000 to build and spans a total of 175,000 square feet, and it includes 16,000 feet of Brazilian slate tile. The Commons would not have been possible without the gifts from Dean Buntrock and his family, totaling up to $27 million. "At that time, that was the largest gift to any Lutheran college in the country," Schroer said.
Buntrock Commons is famous among liberal arts schools as a model student center. "I get calls from people all the time about Buntrock -- among student centers we are known," Schroer said.