College to restructure campus, make Baxter Hall ‘world-class’

Participants in the future class reunions of the classes 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 may one day return to their alma mater to find it has undergone a massive face lift. The College currently has three major construction projects in various stages of planning: a new theatre and dance complex, a “world-class” student center in Baxter and extensive renovations of Stetson Hall and Sawyer Library.

The Campus Planning Committee, consisting of administrators, faculty, staff and students, is overseeing and coordinating the work of the theatre and dance, Baxter and Stetson and Sawyer committees.

At the same time, the committee will take a comprehensive look at everything from green space to foot traffic on the campus, with the goal of developing a master plan to guide future development.

The Campus Planning Committee was also charged with hiring a professional campus planner to work with the College for a period of approximately six months. This past spring, the committee hired Denise Scott Brown of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA), the world-renowned architectural firm based in Philadelphia, Penn.

VSBA’s recent clients include Dartmouth College, UCLA and Princeton University. Jeff McBride ’02, who interned at VSBA this past summer, called Scott Brown “one of the most brilliant people I have ever met.”

During his internship, McBride worked closely with Scott Brown on a daily basis, utilizing a variety of techniques to create maps of the Williams campus.

“They use various means of making maps of the College,” McBride said, “including a complex system of mapping used to map Rome in the 18th century and high tech software mapping utilizing satellite photos, until pieces of important information can be abstracted that can aid the College in making future decisions.”

“It’s kind of like an outsider looking in,” McBride continued. “We’ve become so used to the problems and quirks of this college that we don’t recognize that the campus can be even better.”

With this research in hand, VSBA will present a status report at the October meeting of the College’s Board of Trustees. McBride indicated that Scott Brown will continue working with the Campus Planning Committee until sometime this coming winter.

The ultimate goal of the committee and of VSBA’s work on campus is to produce a written master plan for the College.

“I would envision the master plan as a book of maps, planning features, and different districts of the College,” said Steve Mischissin, director of facilities and auxiliary services for the Department of Buildings and Grounds.

“It will look at vehicular and pedestrian access, thoroughfares, preservation of open space, and campus standards, which are anything that’s external like benches and light poles.”

“[The master plan] will show models for how the campus should be expanded, including what areas can take expansion and what kind of expansion,” Mischissin continued.

“We want to preserve the character of the campus and preserve the features that are valuable to the College and the community.”

The master plan will also serve as a guide for the three major upcoming building projects, ensuring that new construction will be integrated into the larger vision for the Williams campus.

“As individual projects go into the design phase, they will use the master plan as a resource for the design of roads, pathways, and parking around the buildings,” Mischissin said.

Scott Brown will also work closely with the architects of the theatre and dance and Baxter projects.

The theatre and dance project is currently the farthest along in the planning process, with groundbreaking slated to take place sometime in the fall of 2002. According to Jean-Bernard Bucky, professor of theatre and co-chair of the committee, project leaders have spent the last few months “discussing a succession of conceptual designs representing alternate ways of configuring the building.”

“We are now very close to settling on one of these alternatives and proceeding with the so-called schematic design in which we will agree upon the general groundplan of the new facility,” Bucky continued. “At the same time we plan to spend a great deal of time in the next two months pinning down the configuration details of the two new theatres contained within the building with our theatre consultants.”

A $20 million donation from alumnus Herbert Allen ’62 will fund construction of the massive new complex. The facility was originally planned for the corner of Spring and Walden Streets on a site that the college purchased from the American Legion. Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, announced in October of 2000 that the College would abandon the Spring Street site and focus instead on renovating and expanding the Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT) on Main Street.

The Baxter committee spent the summer paring down their list of potential architects to a final recommendation for the Board of Trustees.

Sarah Barger ’02 was one of several committee members who traveled to Boston and New York City this summer to visit past projects of the committee’s two finalists.

“I was struck by the skill and design displayed by both firms, but returned from the trip with a strong sense of my preference,” Barger said. “After sharing our perspectives, Dean Roseman made the preliminary decision. Nothing is final without the Trustees’ approval, but I am hopeful that they will like the firm we have recommended.”

Nancy Roseman, dean of the College and a co-chair of the Baxter project, said that the committee’s choice would not be made public until after the Trustees’ vote. However, Roseman did say that the committee was “very excited” about its choice.

“There were so many criteria for choosing an architect that it is hard to boil it down to a primary criteria,” Roseman said. She indicated that in making its final decision the committee considered “overall experience, experience working with academic institutions, experience with student centers, structure and size of the firm itself, ability to work with large and diverse communities, vision, ability to listen and be responsive to the client, and obviously the look and feel of past buildings.”

“I understand that our building plans might be stalled or slowed in light of current events, but I really do hope that work on Baxter continues to move forward,” Barger said. “A revitalized student center with improved social offerings is, in my mind, our school’s most needed element.”

The Stetson and Sawyer committee has not yet begun the process of choosing an architect.

The renovation of the College’s flagship library and its largest faculty office building is likely to be the last of the three projects to begin construction. According to David Pilachowski, the College librarian and co-chair of the Stetson and Sawyer committee, the committee has received and reviewed three preliminary design options from the architectural firm CBT of Boston.

“[CBT’s] charge was to show some options for placing building mass as well as depicting what spaces various amounts of square footage would occupy,” Pilachowski said.

“At this point, we have not been asked to begin the process of identifying possible architects for more detailed planning and building design.”

Mischissin indicated that funding sources have not yet been identified for the Baxter and the Stetson and Sawyer projects.

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