Goodrich student center

The renovation of Goodrich Hall, designated as Williams’s new student center, will be completed in July. Designed to supplement Baxter and other student spaces existing on campus, Goodrich will be an entirely student-run facility, containing 24-hour study space, a coffee bar, entertainment and performance capabilities, and a student organization resource office.

“It’s going to be the most significant addition to student life in a long time,” Mac Harman ’98 said. Harman is currently a member of the Goodrich Building Committee and has been involved with the project since its inception four years ago.

Goodrich Hall served as the College Chapel from 1859 until Thompson Chapel was built in 1905. Since that time the building has served a wide variety of purposes, serving as classrooms and art studios. Several years ago students began to push for additional high-quality student space, and the College looked to Goodrich to house the new student center.

Administration of most aspects of the building will fall to the College Council. “As far as management goes, the College Council and I will be responsible for the building,” Co-President of CC Will Slocum ’99 explained. “We have the opportunity to decide everything ranging from what sort of food and coffee we are going to sell, what groups will play, what hours the building will be open, and what resources will be available in the Student Group room, among other things.”

The Floor Plan

The new center will consist primarily of three main rooms. The first is the Great Room, which Goodrich Manager Ryan Mayhew ’01 called “the primary meeting space.” Located in the center of the building in the sanctuary of the original chapel, this open space will have lofty ceilings. The room will consist of two levels, a main floor and a balcony above, which wraps around three walls and overlooks the first level.

The primary feature of the main floor will be the coffee bar, a student-run establishment serving gourmet coffee and specialty desserts from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. “It’s not intended to compete with the snack bar,” College Architect Chris Williams said. “It’ll be a place you can come between classes, meetings, events.”

Surrounding the coffee bar will be metal-topped tables and black wooden chairs, as well as big leather armchairs and couches. “It’s going to have a really nice atmosphere,” Mayhew waxed. “It will recreate a rustic atmosphere—nice and homey.”

The main floor of the Great Room will also feature a stage at one end, the site of the altar in the original chapel. All seating for the coffee bar as well as the armchairs and couches can be removed, and folding chairs set up to create event seating for up to 500 people. The building is fully equipped with a deluxe sound and light system for use in concerts and other performances, as well as an LCD projector and screen.

Scheduling of events in the hall will be under student control and administered through CC. “All programming decisions–who uses space and how–are made by students,” Dean of the College Peter Murphy noted.

On the second-floor balcony will be the mezzanine lounge, which will house padded booths along the walls, more tables and armchairs, couches with uplights, and steps to sit on which overlook the main floor. On the west wall of the lounge will be a 10-foot dormer window, a model of the dormer window found in the original chapel.

“It’s an incredible timepiece–you can hardly see anything out of the window that tells you what century you are looking at,” Harman added.

The main floor and lounge area will be the primary study spaces in Goodrich. There will be 24-hour access, with card-readers required late at night, similar to the situation in Jesup. The booths on the mezzanine are equipped with ethernet access, and the building will contain six e-mail terminals, four downstairs and two upstairs.

Behind the stage on the first floor is the Green Room, which will serve as backstage during performances and as additional study space during all other times.

Above the Green Room on the second floor, adjacent to the mezzanine lounge, is one of the most important features of the building: the Student Activities Resource Center.

“This room will be home base to all the student organizations,” Williams explained. Access will be restricted to student groups: members of each group will be given an access code for a keypad entry system. A subdivision of the Resource Center will become the new CC Office.

The room will contain large work tables, file cabinets and lockers where each group can reserve storage space. There will also be high-end computers, printers, a scanner, a copy machine and a fax for the use of the organizations.

“The room is large enough for several groups to meet at once,” Mayhew said. “The hope was that bringing groups together in this one room will improve communication between groups.”

The Link

The last major feature of the building will be a link structure connecting it to Lasell Gymnasium. This link will allow students to go from Goodrich into Lasell, and from there, all the way to the hockey rink, without going outside. “You can work out in the gym, come up through Goodrich and get a drink, then go on to class,” Harman explained.

The Link will increase convenient access to Goodrich for athletes and others who might not otherwise walk to the Southeast end of the campus. “We wanted to make sure that this didn’t become the Berkshire Quad Student Center,” Harman said.

The link also serves a key purpose architecturally. The building code and Americans with Disabilities Act required adding a second fire stairwell and an elevator to the building. “As we studied the plans,” Williams said, “we realized that we wouldn’t be able to get the historical quality we were looking for if we put this stuff inside. So we put them in the link.”

However, the link was not an easy structure to build. “It is enormously complicated in there, between Lasell and Goodrich,” Henry Moss, of Bruner-Cott architectural firm, the principal architect directing the project, explained. “The main power supply for half the campus has to go right through there. That is something that is designed within inches and we didn’t even know exactly where it was.” He added, “The link was built on what is basically a rock quarry with an electrical line running through.”

Because of the link, the builders could “maintain the integrity of the [inside] space,” Harman said, giving the space a valuable flexibility. “We wanted it to be a really flexible space, so we put in as few walls and divisions as possible,” Harman said.

“The whole building will be very open, not rigid at all,” Mayhew added.

The open nature of the building will have a dramatic effect on the interior atmosphere. “It is not going to seem like an office, not like Baxter,” Mayhew noted. With the high ceilings, skylights, side windows and the large dormer window, the entire building will be flooded with natural light.

Historical Integrity

The main room maintains the original wooden floor, and many of the stained glass windows, which Williams described as “real beauties,” are also remnants of the Goodrich Chapel days. Part of the original altar remains above the stage, and photographs of the old chapel will decorate the walls in the main room. “We want to give students the sense of Williams life as a 200-year continuum,” Williams explained.

In fact, preserving the historical nature of the building was one of two primary goals throughout the planning and construction of t
he new center. “In a sense, we were taking it back more to the original building,” Williams said.

“Acknowledging its history inside the building has been really important to me all along,” Murphy added. The College expressed these desires to the architect, who kept them in mind when drafting the plans. “Architecturally, one goal was to add new life to this forgotten building,” Gretchen Schneider, another senior staff architect at Bruner-Cott, explained. “But one of our biggest challenges was how to put twentieth and twenty-first-century demands into a nineteenth-century building.”

Student Involvement

The other major goal of the project, perhaps the most important one, was to engage students fully in every aspect of design and development. “The most exciting thing about the project is that since the beginning, students have been involved,” Harman said. “So many times we saw student centers [at other schools] that failed. It was clear that they didn’t have any student input.”

To prevent this from happening at Williams, the administration made students an integral part of the project from the beginning. In April 1994, Williams began a “Residential College Study” to assess various aspects of student life at the College. One of the subcommittees on this project was the Committee on Student Space, co-chaired by Williams and involving several student members, which looked at the quality of student space on campus.

In January 1995 the group submitted a final report where they targeted Goodrich as a potential site for a much-needed new student center. “We suggested Goodrich Hall because it was an assembly place, a chapel, and so we thought it would be a good place to put student activities,” Williams recalled.

President of the College Harry C. Payne created the Spatial Planning Group in the fall of 1995 to follow the Committee on Student Space report.

A subcommittee including many student member was created to deal specifically with the design of Goodrich. They toured student centers at Amherst, Mt. Holyoke and other schools to get ideas for Goodrich and, in Harman’s words, “see what didn’t work.”

In the spring of 1996, the trustees approved the project, and the Goodrich/Baxter Planning Committee was formed with Murphy as chairman.

“The first major task was to create an architectural program—what spaces we needed in terms of function, size, character and adjacencies,” Harman recalled. Another issue the committee considered was how and when to renovate Baxter Hall, if at all.

The next step was to select an architect. In December, 1996, the committee went through a long selection process to narrow the list of potential firms to five finalists. At this point, the committee voted.

The students played a crucial role in this final decision. “It was a close vote,” Harman noted, “and student votes were given the same weight as the senior staff.” The committee decided on an architectural firm called Bruner-Cott, and the project was assigned to architect Henry Moss.

“The students had a very big voice in the selection committee,” Moss recalled. “We were very pleased because we think of students as our major constituency. At places like Amherst they were not part of the building conception and realization.”

At that point, the architects began to incorporate ideas generated by the committee to come up with more concrete plans for both Goodrich and Baxter. “The Williams College building committee came to us with a pretty definite plan and a pretty definite set of goals,” Schneider said. “We [did] our best to work with that.”

The plans for Baxter were shelved for the time being, because, as Murphy said, “We don’t have the funding for that right now.”

The architects and the College engaged in a reciprocal exchange of ideas to create the final plans for Goodrich. “Students made a list of the types of things they would want in a student center,” Moss added. “Then we worked with the students and the building to figure out what they absolutely needed and what they didn’t need.”

Last summer, the architects took the general design that had been agreed upon and created the final draft and construction documents. Construction itself began on Nov. 3, 1997.

The entire project is expected to cost the College from $2.1-$2.3 million. Most of this money had been allocated years ago for the renovation of Goodrich. Some money has also been donated by alumni. For example, the Class of ’73 is donating $.5 million to pay for the Resource Room. The Class of ’97 is currently collecting funds to put up a plaque for Robert Bell, a Williams English professor who died last year, and the Class of ’98 is considering installing a functional chapel bell as their class gift.

Administrators and students alike expect Goodrich to be a full success when it opens in the fall. “Our hope,” Slocum said, “is that it will attract all types of students, bringing the student body together in a way that Baxter cannot.”

According to Harman, that is the beauty of Goodrich. “It’s the first building like that at Williams–maybe anywhere. It’s really the students’ building.”

Photo and sketch courtesy the Goodrich home page located at:

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