Baxter redesign in final planning

A contract between Polshek Partnership, the architecture firm handling the reconstruction of Baxter Hall, and the College is expected to be reached shortly, perhaps as early as this week. The College’s project manager, Christopher Williams, said he could not put an exact date on when the two sides would reach an agreement and the negotiations had been more difficult than expected due to Polshek’s status as one of the nations’ top architecture firms.

At the moment, the College has been simultaneously formulating an agreement with Polshek and completing its own budget analysis of the project.

The College currently has set aside $35 million for the completion of the renovation. Current cost projections estimates that the project will cause $25.6 million for the actual construction, leaving the remainder to cover miscellaneous costs such as permits and the expense of relocating student organization offices.

The Baxter project is one of many high-investment construction projects planned for the next couple of years, and although it may be the most prominent building to undergo renovation, it is not the most costly.

However, Polshek’s reputation has added cost to the project. “They are running high and command strong fees,” Williams said. Williams, however, said Polshek does great work and the end result of having a world-class facility is well worth the extra time it is taking to work out a contract.

Once initial details have been finalized, the College will again present floor plans to the student body for feedback. On Oct. 3, Polshek will send a team to the College to collect student recommendations and field any questions about the plans.

Dean Roseman, head of the Baxter Renovation Committee, will organize the sessions.

“I am very interested in getting student input as they will be the end users of the building. I want to know if they can see themselves in these spaces,” she said.

Two informal conferences will be held with members of the College community to ensure that the final design will meet all the requirements of a student center.

One meeting will involve student leaders familiar with students’ needs for recreational spaces and have popular mandates to speak for the student body at large. The other meeting will invite any interested students to listen to the proposals and make suggestions.

Polshek made a similar presentation to the Board of Trustees. The response was unanimously supportive of the steps that have been taken.

“The best compliment the trustees gave to Polshek Partnership was – you really understand Williams,” Roseman said.

Members of the administration will meet with the trustees again in January to secure final approval for the project. At that time, the trustees will make their decision based on a refined set of plans and new budget figures.

If the project remains on schedule, Baxter will be closed during winter break in 2004 and demolition will begin in January of 2005. The entire construction period will span 22 months and end in January of 2006.

During the design process, planners have stressed the importance of making this a student center. Williams explained that one of the project’s goals is to change the perceived ownership of the building. “Presently the building is configured around the dining hall and owned by Dining Services,” he said. The new building will not be administered by students like Goodrich Hall, but will contain spaces devoted exclusively to student activities.

The new structure will expand the size of Baxter from 54,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet and raise the building one floor higher. The building itself will line up with the edge of Sage Hall but will have a porch extending in the direction of Baxter lawn. In order to take advantage of the views the height of the building will allow, the third floor will offer a rooftop deck.

A “great hall” will fill the center of the building and serve as a lounge with additional recreation rooms off to the side. The hall will have high ceilings and stretch into the second floor where the dining hall will sit.

The mailroom will remain on the first floor along with the Snack Bar. Since the Snack Bar is a space beloved by students and alumni alike, the architects have been hesitant to touch the space. Construction will raise the ceiling one floor and create a pub beneath the room in the basement of the building. A space for the Underground Express may be built next to the Snack Bar.

In order to accommodate new student organizations, office space will be expanded, giving groups such as College Council and ACE their own central offices for the first time. Groups such as WCFM, the college radio station, will move to a more prominent location and out of the basement of Baxter in hopes of increasing student support.

The planning process of the renovation involves more than design schemes for the new structure. Administrators are currently addressing how to handle the transition months. They must consider relocating the mailroom to another central location along with offices and the Snack Bar.

The committee will review possible spaces on campus such as the first floor of Greylock dining hall, the auxilliary rooms in Goodrich Hall, the old American Legion building located on Walden Street and Hardy House, which is currently used by the Multicultural Center. Rather than find a location for a Snack Bar, the College most likely will expand the Eco-Café and Grab ’n Go.

The College feels confident that although closing Baxter will eliminate one of the largest dining halls on campus, the other dining halls will be able to absorb the displacement. This summer the capacity of Mission dining hall was increased, giving the College extra room. Administrators will have to consider other plans to meet dining needs such as extended hours.

One consideration still in debate concerning the project is whether or not the building should be built in compliance with LEEDS (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design), a framework for grading buildings using a point system. To obtain the certification, costs for the project could increase by as much as eight percent.

The decision is especially difficult since the College lacks explicit environmental guidelines that would serve to guide new projects such as the Baxter Renovation. “There is not a clear philosophical commitment in the administration. Hopefully, this weekend’s environmental conference will be another step in developing that,” said Williams.

Baxter Hall, built in 1954 at the cost of $1.5 million, was last renovated in 1985.