Mission common space revamp delights sophomores, upper-class students

Mission Park has long been the bane of rising Williams sophomores’ existence. Built in 1971, the dormitory was a gray maze of poorly lit, narrow hallways and awkwardly angled rooms. This summer, the College took years of complaints to the bank and completely re-did the interior of the building. The construction was designed to improve the quality of life by creating larger common spaces to open up the dorm and give it a more social feel.

The old Mission was not popular with students. Designed to be riot-proof during an era marked by conflict on college campuses, the building was divided into 4-to-7 person suites. Each suite had a bathroom and was closed off by doors at either end. In a dorm that housed over 300 people, there were only two rooms with a fire capacity over 20. A lack of common areas and the dull, monochromatic hallways gave the dorm an institutional feel.

Mike Chaberski ’05 chose to avoid the old Mission and picked into a row house double his sophomore year. “It may have been an efficient use of space, but does that really make it worth living there? I wouldn’t go near that gray asylum.”

Shomik Dutta ’05, a 2002-2003 Mission resident and Record editor, echoed Chaberski’s feelings about the building. “They played me for a chump,” Dutta said. “Mission fell on me. . . I felt obligated to live there and those dingy hallways were the source of my Sophomore Slump.”

Those who have yet to visit Mission this fall are in for a shock. Aside from the intriguing “Men Working” sign over Mills, the exterior and entrance of the building remain familiar. The suites, however, have been completely redone. The College replaced the landings between each hall with large common rooms and kitchens, each of which serve between two and four suites. The common rooms come standard with deluxe furniture and a large-screen cable TV. The kitchens have built-in microwaves and small-scale refrigerator/freezers.

The College also did away with the old locks and installed a keypad access system. Rather than bringing your key around with you, you just have to punch in a code to get into your room. The hallways have been brightly repainted. This improvement did not go unnoticed by Adam Ain ’06, who described the common rooms as “spacious, yet cozy. The sunflowers in our common room really bring out the yellow in our walls.” As a final touch, the College added an elevator from the first floor to the dining hall to allow both the handicapped and the lazy easier access to nourishing vitamins and minerals.

Student response to the renovations has been overwhelmingly positive. The most universal praise for the design is that the open common rooms make it much easier to see people outside housing groups. The free cable in each common room was also unanimously lauded by current residents. Large common spaces, large-screen TV’s with cable, lots of couches and happy students. . .has the College possibly stumbled on something here?

Talk is well and good, but obviously quantifiable data is the bottom line at Williams. Here we go then. . . In a random, unscientific survey, 94 percent of sophomores said they were happy with their choice to live in Mission. Nine percent would live in Mission again next year and 43 percent would consider the idea. No juniors asked would even think about going back to Mission for their final semesters and only one senior, George Evans III ’04, said he’d be back in the dorm after this year.

The new Mission may have support from the masses, but not everyone is sold on life in Big Grey. Joanna Westrich ’06 avoided the dorm and opted to live in West because she’s “not impressed with the new locks. . . also, living down there you don’t really get to know that many people outside your class.”

Other complaints about the new structure: a lack of water fountains, microwaves that heated soup too quickly and a Power-Aid machine on the first floor that is inconsistent at best. It actually ate my dollar when I tested it. You’re in the know now. That machine is nothing but bad news and frustration.

So what’s the verdict on Mission Park? It would seem that the common rooms and cable outweigh the lost dollars for just about everyone. The dorm has a much livelier feel than it used to; a random walk down the hall now will generally lead to people rather than closed doors. Will Mission replace Greylock and the Row Houses as upper-class housing? Not likely, but it’s worth checking out – so long as you aren’t in the mood for a refreshing beverage or an old-fashioned lock.