College decides not to purchase Sand Springs

The College will not buy Sand Springs Pool, a swimming pool owned by Williamstown residents Frederick and Helen George, based on a recommendation from the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR). In recent weeks it has become apparent that the George family planned to sell Sand Springs, a substantial piece of real estate just north of the Hoosic River, but with this came the possibility that the land, and the pool, could fall into purely private hands.

The issue in front of the committee drew out of a proposal from a group of faculty that would have had the College buy the property and keep it open as a service to the community.

Helen Ouellette, vice president of the College, said that the administration concurred with the recommendation. “The president and senior staff talked about the recommendation and agreed that it was not appropriate for the college to buy the facility,” she said.

However, Ouellette went on to say, “If a local group is interested in keeping the pool open to the community and starts a fundraiser of some sort with this end in mind, the College would certainly support it.”

Many professors have argued that the pool is an important fixture in the College community. On the most basic level, the facility is the only swimming pool open to the public in the town, and during the summer this is an important institution. Susan Dunn, a professor of French and long-time supporter of Sand Springs, stressed its importance for the College. “To attract good faculty, there have to be certain amenities, and a swimming pool for faculty with children is a necessary part of the quality of life in Williamstown,” she said.

James McGregor Burns ’39, a professor of political science emeritus, echoed Dunn’s sentiments. “Above all the pool is a benefit to the community, a place for enjoyment, a place where there are a lot of townspeople and faculty, where there is a lot of mingling between the college and the town,” he said. “Even more, it’s a wonderful place for children, an informal but beautiful place during the summer.”

The CPR considered these arguments and opinions carefully, according to chairman Bill Wagner, a professor of history. “It’s a place where faculty and staff from different departments can come together, where people can bring their children and mingle,” he said. “It also provides a good opportunity for members of the college community and townspeople to come together and interact. It’s one of the few places in Williamstown where that can happen.” Finally, in virtue of its natural setting, Sand Springs “preserves the rural qualities of the town,” as Wagner said.

The committee agreed that all of these arguments were valid, but ultimately the question at hand was whether the College should buy the entire facility. With an estimated price tag of $1 million, the sheer cost of such an undertaking was reason enough to beg off. The property would have to be acquired, the facility needs improvements to conform with the American Disabilities Act and maintenance fees would have to be earmarked annually.

According to Wagner, this would have been the second highest amount the College would ever have given to the town, the largest being the College’s recent support to the elementary school, totaling almost $2 million, and the next largest amount being for the present Spring Street project, a grant of $700,000.

“It was in this context that we made our decision,” Wagner said, “and with such a substantial amount of money, and next to these other extremely important projects, we just couldn’t justify the purchase of the facility.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t directly relate to the purposes of the College. Obviously it has plenty of beneficial effects, but if we’re thinking about a million dollars, the committee felt we could find a more beneficial place for that money.” He also hinted that their recommendation was in keeping with Williams’ typical way of operating. “The College gets involved in plenty of projects around town – like the elementary school and Spring Street right now – but are these examples of college ownership? No.”

But Wagner was ready to respond to the implications of this statement. “Although ownership is not an option, if there was an effort on the part of the community to purchase Sand Springs for the use of the residents, then the College should make a significant contribution.”