Extensive renovations transform campus buildings

One of the perks of no longer being a freshman is that returning to campus holds few surprises. Anxiety about roommates, worries about co-ed bathrooms, and curiosities about room dimensions are a thing of the past. This September, though, scores of upperclassmen arrived on campus unsure of what their dorm would even look like. Extensive renovations over the summer transformed both West College and Wood House, while minor changes were made in Fayerweather, East, and Mission Park.

Many students were willing to take the housing gamble, though, as evidenced by the popularity of West in last spring’s housing draw. Traditionally, many sophomores have had rooms in West. This year, the dorm houses mostly seniors. Several residents from last year chose to keep their rooms, after hearing about the plans for renovation. Of course, in every gamble there is the potential for surprise. One poor student learned this when he returned to campus to find that his closet had been eliminated. Most surprises were pleasant, though, as students returned to the renovated West College.

The West of last year was sorely in need of improvements. Director of Housing Tom McEvoy guessed that the building’s last large-scale renovation occurred sometime in the 50’s, but he really had no way of knowing. McEvoy gave extensive descriptions of all the changes Improvements in the “New West” include a more usable common space, new bathrooms, cable availability, and the elimination of “walk-throughs.” The common space, located on the first floor, used to be simply a string of four empty student rooms. It now features more open space, new furniture, and refinished hardwood floors. Every room in West is now a true single. The dorm has a much cleaner and newer appearance. One Senior living in West noted, “I feel like I’m living in a Howard Johnson’s, but without those nice bathrobes.” It seems that such accoutrements were not included in the $850, 000 price tag on West College’s improvements.

Renovations at Wood House were equally well received, with few exceptions. According to McEvoy, the work in Wood House was brought on by building code requirements. Most renovations on campus take place based upon a schedule of importance. Older dorms come up for renovations because they lack modern conveniences like cable access and kitchen facilities. Often other features of the dorm are then refurbished at the same time. Some buildings, though, like Wood are brought to the top of the list by building inspector demands.

Wood is now a safer and more technologically equipped building. Changes included the addition of fire doors between the entryway and adjacent common rooms. Glass dividers were also put up on the sides of the stair landing. Residents say the use of so much glass made the whole house seem more open and light. Wood bedrooms were also equipped with new furniture, wall-coverings, and window shades. Wood residents also now enjoy a completely refurbished and modern kitchen. Any complaints about renovations in Wood stem not from what was done, but what, in a $1.2 million project, was left undone.

In a large-scale undertaking like this one, the little things are sometimes overlooked. It seems that, in spite of all the measures taken to improve the interior of Wood House, somehow the exterior was overlooked. As Will Slocum ’99 points out, “In a $1 million project, one would hope that they would repaint the chipped paint pillars in front. We think that it would greatly enhance the overall impression of the Williams campus if they would just paint these pillars.” Other complaints stem from the fate of the back classroom. Although the room has a great deal of charm and quality, it remains completely empty. Apparently, this attractive space is intended to be used for furniture storage. Slocum once again speaks out for his house, saying, “We at Wood house think that it is a shame to have such a classic room dedicated to such uses. We call for furniture.”

The improvements in Fayerweather and East dorms are met with little critique by the first-year inhabitants. Mike Fluellen ’02 responds, “Well, I don’t know what they looked like before, but they seem fine.” They are fine. One complaint, though, is the poor selection of colors. The walls are covered in bright white and mustard yellow tiles. The floor is a lighter shade of off-white. Now, it doesn’t take an interior decorator to realize that if you use white on the walls and off-white on the floor, then the floor is always going to appear dingy, no matter how clean it is. No one likes a dingy bathroom. It seems that the approach was to coordinate the bathroom with the stairwell. Why anyone would want to do this is questionable, but the attempt is noted. Color scheme aside, the bathrooms are well furnished with bright lighting and cubbies.

The summer also saw changes to Mission Park. One of the building’s rec rooms was converted into a library. Residents hadn’t been aware of the change.

Throughout renovations, the college has taken an aggressive stance on environmental issues. Spurred on by Assistant Director for Construction Services Eric Beattie, Buildings & Grounds is working toward recycling of construction waste on all campus projects. Efforts are also made to equip buildings with more environmentally friendly furnishings. Wood floors are restored whenever possible and low-toxicity carpets are used elsewhere. In bathrooms, Buildings & Grounds has chosen low-flow toilets and motion sensor lights to save water and energy.

McEvoy says that next on the agenda for renovations are Garfield House, the co-ops Lambert and Millam, and the Greylock Quad. Despite last year’s housing shortage, no plans have been made to build additional student housing. Several committees have been investigating the relationship between numbers of students on campus and quality of housing and other facilities. McEvoy assures us that this year Housing will have a much better idea of numbers before the draw.