Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall

By Molly Igoe
News Editor

The groundbreaking for the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall began with a round of applause for the Chester River.

“That beautiful river is why we are here. The Chester feeds our nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay; their waters are a foundation for our economy, and for recreational opportunities that give us quality of life. From an institutional standpoint, that river is critical to Washington College as an institution. This river and our rural location are really WC’s secret weapons,” said Dr. John Seidel, director of the Center for Environment and Society and professor of anthropology and environmental studies, at the Friday, Sept. 8 event.

The concept for the project began back in 2008 when the College bought two waterfront parcels adjoining the boathouse, but the process was halted due to the 2008 recession. Dr. Seidel and Dr. Bryan Matthews, then vice president for the Athletic Department, pitched the idea for a waterfront campus to the Board of Visitors and Governors. This waterfront campus was to have three major components: taking advantage of recreational opportunities on the river, a new boathouse, and an academic building, “that would be a home to any scholar interested in the environment,” Dr. Seidel said.

The parcel the College bought had previously been an oil transfer company and an agro-chemical company.

According to Dr. Seidel, it was a fertilizer plant in 1900, then it was a petroleum transfer station by 1929. By the time the College acquired it, it was recognized by the EPA as very badly polluted.

“We subsequently did a $2 million remediation and we cleaned it up for residential standards,” Dr. Seidel said.

Dr. Seidel said that environmental academic programs, like CES, surged and have been elevated over the past few years. The number of seniors who have graduated with a degree in environmental science and studies has more than doubled since 2010.

“During this period, we also adopted a strategic plan, where one of our objectives is to be a leader in the multidisciplinary study of the environment. We also launched a new campaign in May called Forge a Legacy, where Board Chair Larry Culp challenged us not only to be a leader, but to be the best, to think about what it takes to make our programs the best in the country for a college of our type. This is the time for us to make that surge forward to truly become the best in class. I think that the building that is going on this site is one of the last pieces, not the only one, but it’s an extremely important one,” he said.

The new academic building will have labs that will allow students and professors to take samples directly from the river, rather than having to be carted to campus. There will be an archeological lab for terrestrial and marine work, classroom spaces, and home offices for CES teaching staff.

“They are going to have a place they can call home that’s right on the river that we love, where they can see it and get engaged with it,” Dr. Seidel said.

From left to right: Board Chair Larry Culp, former Interim President Jay Griswold, Truman Semans, President Kurt Landgraf, and Dr. John Seidel break ground for the new academic building.
From left to right: Board Chair Larry Culp, former Interim President Jay Griswold, Truman Semans, President Kurt Landgraf, and Dr. John Seidel break ground for the new academic building.

While construction is still a few years away, the building itself is going to be sustainable, and will demonstrate how a building can be established on once polluted land. According to Reid Raudenbush, construction project manager, the building is going to meet the highest standards of energy efficiency, at LEED platinum. Cromwell is LEED gold and other buildings on campus are LEED silver.

Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Larry Culp said, “So much of what we’re going to do here at Semans-Griswold really is a part of a mosaic — a mosaic of work that has been done in years past, and important work that is still to come.”

He spoke about the Lifetime Acheivement Award in Conservation, given to those who have made an impact on the environment. The inaugural award was first given to Truman Semans in May 2014. Semans helped found the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the late 1960s and served on the board for more than 30 years.

Culp announced that the Lifetime Achievement Award is now going to be called the Truman Semans Lifetime Achievement Award in Conservation.

Two recipients of the newly named award were recognized at the ceremony: Will Baker, who has been president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for 35 years, and Keith Campbell, who founded the Campbell Foundation for education and engagement about the Chesapeake Bay.

President Kurt Landgraf took the stage to honor the two men for whom the building is named after, former Interim President Jay Griswold, and Semans.

President Landgraf said, “Both are descendants of the first families to settle in Maryland, so they share a love of history, and they share a love of Maryland. Through their lifetimes, both have been compelled to forge a legacy of environmental stewardship so that future generations can appreciate and preserve the treasured Bay watershed. Both of these men stand as an inspiration to every one of our students.”

He said that the College has received six $1 million commitments from the Bauer Foundation, the Bunting family, Keith Campbell, Ann Horner, Lyndon Hanks Spire, and one anonymous source.

“The Semans-Griswold Hall also represents a landmark achievement in our ongoing efforts to strengthen the College’s partnership with the town of Chestertown, and to make this beautiful river a waterfront destination to residents and visitors,” President Landgraf said.

Semans said his first recollection of WC and Chestertown was 65 years ago, when he was asked to join the Cedar Point Gun Club on Eastern Neck Island.

“I fell in love with the Chester River at that time, and the love affair still continues. Later I was fortunate enough to know and admire Harry Sears and his unbelievable Chino Farms with its bird banding operation and native grasses that were there when John Smith explored the Bay many years ago,” Semans said.

He said the environmental program at the College is something he has embraced “hook, line, and sinker.”

“Me and my family are incredibly grateful and deeply humbled by the College’s decision to put our name alongside our great friends, the Semans family. The various presidents and the Board have had a vision of how the waterfront could be developed to help make WC a place for the best undergraduate environmental program at any small liberal arts college in the country. We’re well on our way to making this happen,” Griswold said. “It is a true coming together of old and new: to fulfill a dream of the oldest college in Maryland and the tenth oldest in the nation.”

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