Weston complex slated for upgrade

In an all-campus e-mail on Monday, President Falk announced that after a nearly four-year suspension, the renovations slated for Weston Field are back on the College’s agenda with construction tentatively scheduled to begin the week after the 2013 Homecoming football game. According to Falk, the project will provide safer and higher-quality facilities for field hockey, football, lacrosse and track and is expected to cost $22 million.

According to Lewis Fisher, director of development, $15 million of the project’s total cost will come from donations and $7 million will come from the College’s project fund. “These are donations that are given specifically for Weston,” Fisher said. The Development Office has gone to individual alumni and parent donors and asked if they would “be able to support [the project] in a meaningful, significant way,” he explained.

Currently Development has raised $12.5 million, in commitments from $250,000 to $5,000,000, from nine individual donors. Gifts were made  between the fall of 2011 and now, and currently cover 80 percent of the cost of the project. “We did not want this effort to take important support away from other priorities like the Alumni or Parents Funds, so we specifically targeted a small group of potential major donors who are excited about this particular project and its positive impact for Williams,” Fisher said. “We are obviously fortunate and grateful to have such loyal and generous alumni and parents.”

Fisher said that the $15 million was “enough for Falk to feel comfortable asking the Board of Trustees to vote to proceed [with the project] while Development continues to raise the final $2.5 million needed for the project.” The Board of Trustees reached the decision  to move forward with the project over the weekend; following a presentation of the project and the College’s fundraising efforts on Friday, the trustees voted unanimously to approve the construction on Saturday morning.

Provost Will Dudley ’89 explained that a specific alumni donation threshold had to be met in order for the project to go forward. “Early in Adam Falk’s presidency, he and the Board agreed that fiscal prudence requires the College to make the approval of major capital projects contingent upon raising a significant portion of the required funds from new donations that would not otherwise be received,” he said.

Fisher explained that “the $15 million fundraising threshold was determined, in part, by the acknowledgement that the current facility has significant capital improvement needs and would require investments from [the College] even if we didn’t move forward with the proposed plan. In other words, if we received no philanthropic support, Williams was committed to making certain required improvements and counted these improvements against the $22 million total.”

Fisher said that these “required improvements” specifically include work on the bleachers, the track and the restroom facilities.

Although Development started its focused fundraising effort for the project last fall, Fisher noted that the original plan for Weston Field renovations was conceived before 2008.

In addition to the necessary improvements to the athletic facilities for field hockey, football, lacrosse and track, other aspects of the renovations will include modernized restroom facilities and new bleachers. In his e-mail, Falk described the end result as establishing facilities that are “safer and more inviting for both athletes and fans” and noted that “the project will also free up space on Cole Field for junior varsity, club, intramural and recreational use.”

According to Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, the Weston Field project is similar to the Stetson-Sawyer library project, which was also suspended in 2008 due to the financial crisis.

“It’s been around and on our minds for at least seven years,” Klass said. “We had the design work done and then we wanted to rethink the whole thing. We reinstated the committee … There have been a number of pieces that have been coming together … and the last piece of it was [the] design competition, which three architectural firms engaged in a year ago. We selected the schematic design we liked the best, that was [from] Clough, Harbor and Associates Sports.”

According to Klass, the College is now beginning to work with the architects and “put together a small project committee.” The Weston Athletic Complex Project Committee will be co-chaired by Dudley and Athletic Director Lisa Melendy. Two members of the Facilities staff, Annie Angueira, director of planning and construction, and Jason Moran, facilities project manager, will also serve on the committee.

“We’re going to start design work right now,” Klass said. “[The architects] have to take that schematic design and develop the full design. And then we have also to look for a construction management firm and go back through the permitting and all of these things” that were put on hold while the project was suspended, he explained, adding that the project is expected to see completion before the 2014 fall athletic season.

Melendy said that the renovations are “going to enhance the experience for our student athletes tremendously.” She especially spoke to the need for repairs on the track and supporting amenities such as locker rooms and trainers’ facilities.

Melendy also noted that this field complex will free up space on Cole Field. Football currently monopolizes three fields on that part of campus, but after the renovations, the team will be able to move to the new complex entirely, freeing up Cole Field space for use by other varsity sports as well as club and intramural teams.

“That’s another one of the real benefits for the entire community, not only for the varsity teams,” Melendy said in reference to freeing up field space and offering teams more flexibility. She also spoke to the value of the renovations to specific teams: “It’s a little bit technical, but the field hockey surface you want on a turf field isn’t the same surface you would want for football or lacrosse,” she said. As such, the College plans to optimize one of the new turf fields for field hockey use.

Last fall during Hurricane Irene, Cole Field flooded and just one artificial field was available for all varsity teams to share. “We hadn’t realized how important that was, but having one more artificial field [gives us] more flexibility [in that type of situation],” Melendy said.

“Having two lighted artificial turf fields will allow more activity for the entire student body throughout the year,” she added. “It will lengthen the amount of playing season that we have, which will lengthen the season for our club and intramural programs as well. We will maintain the order of which teams get access to the fields, but there will be double the space.”