Prospectives unfazed by possibility of no Baxter

Despite the substantial amount of construction the College has planned for the next several years, including the complete demolition and reconstruction of Baxter Hall, prospective students are largely unconcerned about the potentially negative ramifications the construction might have on their college experiences.

To what extent prospective students even know that construction will be taking place is unclear. The Record spoke with several students and their parents, and while some were aware of the impending work, a far greater number were not.

Those visitors who are unaware of the construction are likely so because the College does not go out of its way to advertise it. In the manual given to tour guides, the section describing what guides should say while at Baxter includes no mention of the construction. In the section at the end of the manual that advises guides on how to answer difficult questions, the manual recommends responding to a question about the Baxter construction by saying:

“Williams doesn’t have a real ‘student union’ building, where everyone can congregate, but they’re working on that by renovating and drastically expanding Baxter Hall starting this summer.”

Hoping to simulate the experience of a prospective student, The Record followed an admissions tour and attended an information session. While passing Baxter, the tour guide said, “They actually have plans. . . in the next couple years they will be completely redoing Baxter, so there will be a new student center.” There was no mention of the Baxter renovation in the information session, although the new theater facilities and parking garage were referred to in passing.

Nowhere was it explicitly said that Baxter will be nonexistent for the next several years.

Those parents and students who are aware of the construction seem relatively unconcerned. Many prospective students expressed the belief that there would be other places to go while Baxter is under construction.

The Admissions Office believes that the new student center will eventually encourage students to come to Williams. Dick Nesbitt, director of admissions, expressed his belief that the facility will become “much more of a hub of student life at Williams,” and that it will draw future incoming classes to the College.

Of course, the class of 2007 will not benefit from the new Baxter until their senior year. Still, Nesbitt believes that the very construction itself will attract them to the College:

“The students we are currently recruiting for the Class of 2007 will have to wait until their senior year to experience the ‘new’ Baxter, so the project is little more than an abstraction to them. That the College is moving ahead with its bold new strategic plan despite uncertain economic times, however, sends a strong signal to prospective students: Williams is not only on solid ground – our star is on the rise.”

Williams is not alone among its peer schools in facing major construction, and the approach here is very similar to that of comparable institutions. According to John Hanson, director of Admissions at Middlebury College, Middlebury has spent $150 million on non-routine construction and renovation in the last 10 years, and is currently working on the library, the field house, and a new dining hall. Like Williams, they are enthusiastic about these improvements to their campus: “Students tend to feel that new, modern stuff is good – so to that extent construction is a plus from an admissions standpoint.”

The Admissions Office at Middlebury, however, “does not particularly go out of its way to make students aware of construction.” Hanson added that prospective students can become aware of construction either by observing it on campus or from information on the Middlebury College website.

At Amherst College, the chosen style of construction has meant that it is much less of an inconvenience for students. Although they are months from completing substantial work on their campus center, they have done the work piece by piece and the entire facility was never closed. Cindy Pumais-Holubowich, Campus Visit Coordinator, said that for this reason, “most students didn’t seem to care about it.”

In the end, most visitors do not believe that the Baxter renovation will significantly affect their time at Williams. Cliessa Nagle of Landsdale, Penn., mother of prospective student Zachary Wagner, said, “My assumption is that there will be alternatives set up, and that at a college like Williams, it will be something comfortable and workable.”