20 Years of Gustavus: A bird’s eye view

Inspired by the Google Earth Time Machine blog highlighted by Kottke.org a few days ago, I decided to see how far back the imagery over my college campus reached. I figured it being in rural area, there was probably a lot of agricultural aerial photography going on, but I was wrong, the imagery only went back as far as 1992. Perhaps if I paid for some extra features it would stretch back further, but who knows. Those familiar with Gustavus Adolphus College will recall the infamous 1998 Tornado, the ten-year anniversary of which was commemorated while I was a student. The big thing I remember hearing about the campus was tree loss. The big takeaway watching the recruitment video from the 90s they were still using when I was a freshman was ‘where did all those giant trees on the quad go? What I did not think about, and what never really got talked about, was how many more trees there are now, and this was immediately evident comparing the 92 aerial imagery with the photographs taken 20 years later.
Gustavus from above 2005

One thing that was especially interesting was where there were more trees in 2012, where the trees were smaller, and where they were actually larger. The Linnaeus Arboretum sort of hugs the Westernmost part of the campus. In 2012 the Arb, as we affectionately knew it, is densely populated with trees on the North side, strikingly so compared to the same image in 1992. The South side is a bit more dense, but, since there’s more prairie on that end of the Arb, it’s not as noticeable. What’s strange here is that all the trees actually look a lot bigger, 20 years bigger, in fact. Did the Arb somehow survive the tornado, or was it replanted with really big trees? On the South-Southeast side of the campus, headed down the hill from (the old) Old Main the tree cover is definitely sparser in ‘92, but the trees much larger. There are also more paved paths headed up the hill from Rundstrom Hall, something I would have welcomed when I lived there.

Apart from trees, the campus was busy constructing, moving, or demolishing campus facilities in the last twenty years. The facilities are highlighted on the 2012 map supra and color-coded according to whether they are sports (blue), academic (yellow), housing (green), public spaces (orange), and parking (red). I also made some notes in white. One thing is clear straight away, housing at Gustavus has changed a lot in the last twenty years. On the Southern edge of the campus were added the Arbor View Apartments, on the Western edge before the Arb, Southwest and Prairie View halls (the latter meant to be temporary after the tornado) and the International Center. On the South-Southeast side of campus (a barren patch of grass circled in green) was Wahlstrom Hall, a building demolished the summer before I enrolled. Gusties have also changed the way they play sports, with the football field moved to behind Lund Center on the North End of campus. The new stadium, built in the summer of 2007, is right next to a soccer field, and is across Ring Rd. from a baseball field and a multi-purpose field for practices (and other things? My golf class met there, I imagine that’s not all). All of these fields are either new or have moved since 1992. The 2012 stadium is directly atop the 1992 baseball field, and the 2012 baseball and multi-purpose fields appear to be atop 1992’s farmland. It’s not clear whether the rugby pitch behind Southwest Hall is new, or if it was so used in 1992. The 1992 football stadium is now covered by a mall stretching NE from Christ Chapel, one of two new public spaces. The others were an expansion of the campus center that happened after the tornado to include the Marketplace, and the creation of the Big Hill Farm West of the Arb.

the Gustavus campus from above 1992

The last thing I noted was how little the campus expanded its academic buildings. The three buildings in yellow are Mattson Hall, housing the Nursing and Education Departments; Old Main, renovated in 2005; and Beck Academic Hall completed about one year ago. This illustration of how the campus has changed is by no means scientific. Certainly academics can expand without constructing new buildings unlike, say, housing, and it’s possible some of these buildings were renovated internally, or that departments were moved around campus as they outgrew their homes. The old library, better known as the SSC in my day or A. H. Anderson Hall officially, is currently not occupied by any department, though I believe is still used for its classrooms (correct me if I’m wrong). The departments that were once there have all moved to Beck Hall now. It is nevertheless interesting to think about this aerial transformation in terms of a college’s priorities.

I’m far from the first to note that college costs are on the rise, and I’m far from the first to wonder why colleges seem to spend more on fancy athletic and housing facilities than the academic program (and whether that even matters), and what drives spending by college administrators. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that, at least from a bird’s eye view, my college seems to have its priorities in two key areas: athletics, and student facilities.

Edited for grammar and spelling, 8/15 at 7:37pm.