The Tsai Field House was officially opened to the Lawrenceville community on September 22, 2022. Incidentally, the date also marked the final day of operation for the Jane W. Irwin Dining Center, commonly referred to as Irwin, which had been in operation since September 1972. Lawrenceville’s second centralized dining facility, constructed a decade after the Abbott Dining Room, before which meals were cooked and consumed in individual Houses’ dining rooms. In 1972, the inefficiencies of maintaining almost 11 different kitchens convinced the School to create a common dining center for the Lower and Circle Houses. With $3.5 million (nearly $25 million in 2022 dollars) gifted by a then-anonymous donor, the Irwin Dining Center—then referred to as the “Dining Center”—was opened, centralizing Lawrenceville’s dining services for the first time. The mystery donor, who was later revealed to be Trustee John Irwin ’33, rededicated the building in 1987 as the Irwin Dining Center, after his late wife, Jane W. Irwin. The Irwin Dining Center is currently being taken down due to the complete relocation of its dining services to the Tsai Field House, marking the end of an era in Lawrenceville’s history.
Lawrenceville’s planner, Frederick Montferrat, shared the stories behind the demolition of Irwin. Montferrat remarked that Irwin has “outlasted its shelf life” after almost 50 years of operation; alongside Joseph Tsai’s ’82 donation, the School was able to introduce a brand new facility replacing Irwin and other athletic facilities.
Irwin’s demolition will be finished by the end of this Winter Term. According to Sasaki, the company that designed the Tsai Field House, the space will be flattened and repurposed as a plain connected to the Tsai entrance, with tentative plans to build a new basketball facility and outdoor “Harkness Courtyard.” The hope for the Tsai Field House is to “reposition student life for the school by bringing together recreation, wellness, athletics, and dining into one interconnected environment,” as it restores the old Lavino Field House and introduces new facilities such as an ice rink, basketball gym, swimming pool, and fitness center.
Although Tsai Commons provides a more modern feeling for students to enjoy their meals in, many students have strong opinions about Irwin’s teardown. Due to the recent construction vehicles on campus, many students have been bothered by the loud noises. Maggie Blundin ’24, who lives in the Kirby House, has felt targeted by the din of construction, claiming that she “can’t sleep in anymore” and can “no longer enjoy [her] free A period.” Other students feel nostalgic about the loss of the building. Maddie McIntyre ’25 said she will “miss the dining hall because it was a central part of [her II Form] experience.”
Audrey-Lillie Bing ’23 also reflected upon the importance of the dining hall during the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic; Irwin was her “home during the pandemic,” since as a day student, “[she] was not able to visit other Houses.” Sam Huh ’23 also thought the teardown was “a shame” because its architecture was “prime for its day” and “the unique pod structure is now lost.”
Science Teacher Daniel Concepcion ’02 also said he is “sad to see the dining hall go” because he “spent a lot of time and made a lot of really great memories with [his friends] there,” both as a student and faculty member On the other hand, Concepcion mentioned he appreciates Tsai Commons’ “novelty, spaciousness, and ability to walk around and see [his] previous students from different grades.”