A plea to the Baxter renovation group

Following on the heels of a very successful conference Saturday morning, we are writing this letter out of concern for the fate of the Baxter Hall renovation. Williams must take immediate steps during the wording of the architects’ goals to ensure that the voice of the conference does not go unheard. As President Schapiro so forcefully stated to start the conference, Williams needs to seize the opportunity to be a leader in sustainable campuses. This opportunity is now.

To be a true leader, Williams must be bold in this renovation. But “bold” and “green” do not have to mean “economically unsound.” The upfront costs associated with sustainable design are at times greater than with traditional buildings, but two things need to be considered. First, upfront costs are not always higher, as green technology often reduces or eliminates the need for other expensive technology (often heating or cooling equipment). Second, energy efficiency translates directly into lower operating costs, in this case for a building that will be operated for decades. Instead of continuing to use one-time notions of cost, Lifecycle Cost Assessment (LCA) needs to be considered as it more truly represents the total building cost. Most green technologies pay back with two to five years, and this cannot be ignored.

It is crucial that the message of the conference be brought to the process of designing and constructing a new Baxter Hall. If the College is to commit to being a leader, Williams needs a flagship “green” building on campus, and there is no better place than Baxter for its centrality and importance to the campus. Aside from the obvious benefits to the campus and our surrounding ecosystems of an energy- efficient plan, a Baxter Hall designed to LEED- style standards could be a building that teaches, a building that brings attention to Williams’ leadership, and a building that attracts new students as the Lewis Center has done at Oberlin College. We teach in classrooms, and we teach through the way we design our campus.

If any one message came from Saturday’s conference, it is that there are many ways to be “green” in campus planning and building. “Sustainable” design is not an all- or- nothing game. During the decisions of today and tomorrow on the design goals for the Baxter renovation, green design must be included. These need further investigation and discussion as the design comes together. We would ask that the Baxter Renovation Committee consider these “green” aspects not as a sum total that can be decided for or against, but rather as integrated parts of the building design or each as individual items to be considered as we learn more specifics. The building should also consider the possibility of future upgrades, such as leaving room for photovoltaics or other technology that may not now be economically feasible.

Few societies in the world have had the luxury of considering that their buildings will last only 50 years, as our current Baxter Hall has; surely Athens, Rome, Strasbourg and Chartres did not function this way when they built their own “flagship” buildings. Williams has the opportunity to live up to its claims of leadership, and the first step toward that leadership is the design and construction of a Baxter Hall that celebrates green design.


Malin Pinsky, Chair of the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee

Carlos Silva, Student Member, CEAC

Marissa Doran, Greensense Member

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