Peabody Lawn construction: what you need to know

The excavation on Peabody Lawn is taking place to modernize building heating systems and install fiber optic cables


Emily Gonçalves

Construction on Peabody Lawn. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Brooke Gerber and Grace Lee

First-year students who make the daily trek from Commons to Main Campus have probably noticed the closed sidewalks, high fences and torn up ground taking over the spaces near Peabody Lawn. Signs note the construction’s purpose as a FutureVU initiative, but the massive mounds of dirt and heavy machinery don’t indicate exactly what is going on.

The project is serving to modernize Peabody campus, installing fiber optic cables and converting campus buildings from 1920s steam-heating systems to more efficient hot water-heating systems. This excavation is set to be completed by spring 2020 commencement, with the system fully implemented by the start of the fall semester. It is a separate project from the multi-phased Peabody Neighborhood renovations, which are ongoing. 

While the lawn is being excavated, administration decided that underground infrastructure improvements should be done simultaneously with the pipe work to avoid another dig in the future. 

“We’re a park-like setting and we want to keep it that way,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Plant Operations Mark Petty said.

The preparing-for-the-future part of the project includes electric work and adding fiber optic cables to support predicted campus needs. So far, reactions to the project have been mixed. Some respect the forward-looking aspects of the project, while others take issue with the eyesore that the construction represents.

“We get feedback from potential students and also others, alumni, that people are impressed with the investment being made,” Director of Campus Planning Keith Loiseau said. 

While students may be impressed with the investment, the day-to-day experience of students living on Commons is somewhat less positive. 

“The lawn being torn up is kind of annoying because it’s the ‘most instagrammable spot’ at Vanderbilt and [right now] it’s just not,” first-year Lauren Babb said. “I’m kind of neutral; I really don’t care because it’s not close enough to me to hear it. I think it’s cool that they’re making campus more sustainable because I like all the environmental pushes that Vandy is making.”

While the construction is occurring on some of the most prominent portions of campus, steps have been taken to ensure that the daily lives of students remain uninterrupted. Loud construction doesn’t begin before 9 a.m., and work schedules are altered around major campus events, such as move-in day, according to Loiseau. 

More significant parts of the process, including rock excavation, were completed over the summer before students moved in to minimize disruption. According to Julie Covington, Associate Director of Campus Planning, communication has been a constant goal throughout the construction process to remain cognizant of the schedules of students.

The first phase of the Peabody Neighborhood efforts is the other major construction project near Commons. Currently, the Mayborn and Home Economics buildings on Magnolia Circle are being connected to create a complex for the Human and Organizational Development department; the project is scheduled to be completed this May. 

This project emphasizes sustainability and accessibility, with the design accommodating students’ needs and energy efficiency in a partial Living Building designed to limit solar gain and regenerate some of its own electricity and water. The building will also be solar rooftop ready. 

“These projects are perceived as making the Vanderbilt experience more attractive and more valuable,” Dean of Students Mark Bandas said.