College presents new campus plan to town

Local town residents were invited to attend a special meeting with campus planners Denise Scott Brown and Mark Kocent, who are involved in improving Williams’ campus design, last Thursday evening.

Scott Brown is an architect, planner and urban designer and a respected theorist, writer and educator in all three fields. She is the principal-in-charge for Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates’ (VSBA) projects in urban planning, urban design, campus planning and architectural programming.

Kocent is VSBA’s project manager for Williams, and he is very experienced in both urban planning and architectural design.

As part of the first phase of the College’s campus planning, the consultants held open meetings with interested faculty, staff and students throughout the past week in order to present their work and to receive feedback from the community.

Last Thursday’s meeting was designed especially for local town residents and nearly 50 people attended.

Helen Ouellette, vice president and treasurer of the College, opened the meeting by explaining the purpose of the night’s discussion and the role of the planning consultants on campus.

“When we started this process, we knew that we needed some outside help,” said Oullette. “So, we turned to the firm of Venturi, Scott Brown, an internationally recognized firm. They are architects, but they are also planners.”

“We are not, at this point, doing a full-fledged campus plan which looks at the entire campus, because that takes a lot of time,” she said. “We realized that we have four topics that are really time-sensitive and vital.”

The primary topics the consultants under evaluation are the circulation and movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the development of the new theater and dance facility and the renovation of Baxter and Stetson halls, the physical relocation of offices on campus, and the identification of what Ouellette described as “characteristics that matter to us,” which include the College’s physical landscape and cherished old buildings.

“What we are looking at is the entire physical campus, thinking about how parts of it work together, how it works now, how it will be impacted by curricular changes,” said Ouellette.

After Ouellette’s introduction, Scott Brown then took the floor and presented nine different campus maps to those in attendance. Described by Scott Brown as a “work in progress,” each large, colored map highlighted a different aspect of the campus. One showed the flood plane of the Green River in relation to the campus and the town while another highlighted all of the pedestrian paths at Williams. Others described such features as retail stores and the distribution of classrooms by academic division on campus.

Scott Brown said that one detailed map on campus movement traced its roots back to 18th century Rome. “[This is] based on a map made in Rome in 1758,” she said. “What he [the cartographer] wanted to show was all of the churches in Rome, which gave you a wonderful sense of the public structure of Rome.”

The goal of the evening’s session was to generate feedback from the community and to involve the local residents in the planning process.

Ouellette told the group that Scott Brown needs to get a “sense of the characteristics of this place” we share. “It’s an interactive process. We think that’s really the only way the town and campus planning groups can really address some of these issues.”

After her presentation, Scott Brown opened the floor up to questions from the local residents. A number of local community members spoke and asked questions on a variety of planning issues.

One resident asked Scott Brown to address the development of commerce in Williamstown. “Two [commercial] streets, like Water and Spring St., don’t exist very well without some flow between,” said Anita Barker, a member of the Williamstown master plan committee. “The obvious flow is Latham Street. But, we also understand that the College is looking to expand the athletic facilities in that area,” she asked.

“My feeling is the same way that Spring St. started off as a public park, so the major the connection between the to should be the park,” Scott Brown said. “When retail continuity ends, stores have difficulty surviving.”

Scott Brown suggested that the community might use the greenway on route 2, between Spring and Water Streets, to connect these two commercial districts. She envisions some sort of architectural milestones along this path to fuse this connection.

Another issue of concern from the residents was parking on the College campus and whether the new construction projects will eliminate the parking problems on campus. “On Park St., presently from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, parking is bumper to bumper,” said Peter Elvin, rector of St. John’s Church. “It is absolutely uninterrupted on both sides. I see no parking overlay on your maps. It would comfort me greatly if there was a plan for parking.”

Scott Brown responded by stating her team realizes parking is a problem on campus. “I am very aware of the problems of parking on this campus,” she said. She added that another campus map, which she did not bring, highlights all of the parking on campus and the traffic congestion created by the College, and that parking is a problem that will be addressed.

In order to generate these maps, the Venturi, Scott Brown team studied the campus and the town community.

“They have made a number of visits to campus,” said Ouellette. “They have met with the town master plan committee. They’ve begun a communication with the master plan consultants the town has hired.”