College explores combined renovation of Stetson, Sawyer Library

The College is considering a major renovation of Stetson Hall and the Sawyer Library to create an integrated complex of faculty offices and an expanded library facility.

David Pilachowski, head librarian of the College, and Michael Brown, a professor of anthropology and sociology, are co-heading the project, which seeks to correct architectural problems with Stetson Hall and expand the Sawyer Library to meet space requirements in years to come.

“Let’s be serious, the building is obviously not designed for offices. The ceilings are low, because library stacks filled the building,” said Pilachowski of Stetson Hall. “The brutal fact is that its service life is coming to and end. [In the ’70s] the College was trying to convert what was a wonderful old building to what it needed at the time.”

Stetson Hall was built in 1923 as the College’s library, and was converted to faculty offices in 1974 when Sawyer Library was built. As part of the conversion, an addition was constructed to house more faculty offices. To this day, the bulk of the newer wing is devoted to office space. The center of the original building houses library stacks that have poor ventilation and lack climate-control systems that are the norm for modern libraries. Such problems, in addition to space constraints, make this collection inaccessible to students.

The rest of the original portion houses the Chapin Rare Book Library and assorted faculty offices. As most students know, locating an office in Stetson can be extremely difficult, and the 1974 wing is connected to the original building by a sloping walkway that unceremoniously

links the two sections. According to professors, the internal design of the building is so haphazard that a textbook at the Yale School of Architecture has used Stetson Hall as an example of what not to do when renovating an older building.

Pilachowski is spearheading the effort to redesign and renovate the Sawyer Library, and Brown is concentrating on reorganizing Stetson Hall. The two mentioned several basic flaws in the Sawyer-Stetson complex that must be addressed.

Specifically, they mentioned that the faculty has no integrated office complex at this time, as offices are spread across three different buildings. “It’s difficult to have conferences with professors because of the small size of the offices,” said Brown. Currently, few, if any, student spaces exist for such a purpose.

Also, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) – which helps faculty and staff with technology implementation – currently maintains a facility in the Stetson basement. Brown emphasized that the information technology group will be a key part of the renovation efforts, as its project manager, Jonathan Lehman, expects to increase the group’s presence in the building to better aid the faculty.

Plans to renovate Stetson were developed several years ago, according to Brown, but they were put on hold when it became apparent that Sawyer Library would have to fit into the equation.

“Our mandate is to develop a library program inventory by the end of December,” said Pilachowski. Explaining the need for such a renovation, he said, “We can see the day when we won’t have room for that first new book on the stacks.” In an attempt to preemptively avoid such a problem, as well as to integrate access to Stetson Hall and the library, the two buildings will

be treated as one project. A primary goal is to integrate the main collection with the College Archives, the Chapin Rare Book Library and the Special Collections Department in an accessible facility.

In order to factor in student perceptions of such integration, as well as the study space that would accompany it, the Library Council is organizing a series of focus groups to assess student needs for a renovated facility. A random list of students and faculty will be generated over the coming weeks, and interested students asked to participate in sessions aimed at isolating the goals for the library. Pilachowski also encouraged the student body to use the suggestion box located on the main floor, near the new books area.

He emphasized that the project is still in the planning stages, and, consequently, is subject to change based upon student input.

“We’ve had good reactions to Schow,” said Pilachowski, referring to the new Nan and Howard B. Schow ’50 Science Library, inaugurated this year along with the Unified Science Center. He suggested that, along with increases in space, the Sawyer renovation would bring the technology and ergonomic standards up to those set by the Schow project.

Brown and Pilachowski mentioned that the logistics of the project are daunting and could complicate things for students and professors. “At the University of Vermont [which had a similar library expansion], students had to live through difficult conditions.”

“We’re going to have to move at least 95 offices during the expansion of Stetson,” said Brown. Likening the upcoming work to the recently completed unified science complex, he said, “People had to move offices every few months, but in the end, we hope it’s all worth it.”

The two expressed optimism about the project and mentioned that they expect soon to have a first draft of a document identifying space and facility needs for Sawyer, the archives and the Chapin Rare Book Library. Student reactions will be used to shape the final inventory document for the project in January.

At this time, little has been set in terms of design or the projection of expanded space. After the assessment of needs, individuals involved in the project will consult with an architect about a possible design and will visit other colleges to assess what types of facilities and designs would

work on the Williams campus.

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