Weston restoration emphasizes environmental integration

Weston Field BW
The new Weston complex wil take into account environmental sustainability standards.
Alex Marshall/Photo Editor

The College plans to begin the long-anticipated renovations of the Weston Field complex within the month. Construction is slated to begin on Nov. 9, immediately after this season’s final varsity football game. Provided that the weather allows for continued progress through the winter, the athletic complex will reopen in September of 2014. These expected renovations will enhance athletic experiences at the College, both for participants and spectators, but they also support green construction institutional priorities. Environmental considerations are a primary concern in the Weston restoration, as the complex is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. With a project of this scale and importance, the College is using the opportunity to refurbish Weston as a sustainable rebirth of athletic facilities on campus.

 

Past iterations of the Weston Field project

 

The Weston Field project was first introduced as one of the College’s long-term renovations in 2006, when the Athletics and Fitness Facilities Master Planning Group announced via an all-campus e-mail that athletic facilities renovations would begin with an overhaul of the Weston Field complex and improvements to fitness facilities. The Planning Group made recommendations based on an analysis of the present state of facilities provided by the outside consultant Canon Design along with the results of a campus-wide survey regarding opinions of athletic and fitness facilities. Preliminary projections for the total cost of the project approximated $12 million dollars.

“When I was involved with the earlier iteration of the project, we were making every effort to reduce the impact of the built component to keep that aspect of the project as minimal as possible, recognizing that you still have to have showers and bathrooms and all those things to upgrade the experiences of the teams and the spectators from what’s there now,” Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, said. “The way that it was situated on the site, and the way that we were working with the specific environment with that parcel of the land, were central conceptual issues that we were asking architectural designers to resolve in the initial competition between firms. I think the design we’re working on really addresses these challenges beautifully.”

The financial downturn of 2008 began a series of funding challenges for the renovations that resulted in serious delays.

“With Weston, we used the [unexpected] time to reimagine the once-in-a-lifetime possibilities the project afforded,” President Falk said. “What had been an effort to address deficiencies and squeeze a new building between two playing fields became a holistic look at how the complex could best support our approach to athletics, with its emphasis on broad participation and excellence within Div. III. The committee arrived at an approach that not only succeeds in that way, but also puts greater emphasis on green design and on the environmental stewardship of the surrounding area.”

The College has used the extended period between the announcement of the intended renovations and the actual construction to consider the particularities of the site. One issue in particular is the health of Christmas Brook, which runs through the site.

“The planning for Christmas Brook and actually improving the health of the ecosystem around Christmas Brook was central to the thinking [about the Weston renovations],” Dean Bolton said. “So you know, not building in a way that doesn’t make things worse, but actually building in a way that makes things much better for that highly impacted brook that already runs under a bunch of paved areas.”

The Board of Trustees has approved the current cost of the project, allowing the construction to finally move forward.

“The new project has attracted enough philanthropy toward its $22 million cost that the Board of Trustees […] voted to proceed,” Falk said.

 

Environmental priorities in the Weston Field project

 

Though the delays in renovation did generate funding stresses for the Weston project, in some ways the unexpected postponement facilitated a broader discussion about sustainable construction in the complex.

“We are always looking for ways to invest in sustainable projects whether it is the use of solar panels to generate electricity or the use of local, sustainable food in the dining halls,” Fred Puddester, vice president for finance and administration, said.

This institutional dogma is playing out in Weston Field specifically in the architectural pursuit of LEED certification.

“Williams has a set of sustainable building guidelines that recommends that all new buildings achieve LEED Gold certification, and Weston is on track to achieve that level,” Amy Johns, interim director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, said. “LEED is the best known green building certification process – it consists of a checklist of points that a building can achieve in a number of different areas: energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality and more.”

Pursuing LEED certification does not always add expense to a campus building project. Additionally, the structure’s maintenance costs over time as well as the structure’s negative impact on its site often outweigh the project’s initial sticker shock.

“Much of what makes a building sustainable is just good design and good practice, and often doesn’t have extra cost associated with it,” Johns said. “Other aspects of the building (like increasing insulation or installing efficient lights and bathroom fixtures) may cost more to install, but cost less to operate and are overall financially favorable.”

Plans for sustainable construction and the new Weston complex

 

With construction scheduled to begin soon, the College is finalizing the logistics of the Weston project and resolving last-minute complications.

“The Weston Field Athletic Project will completely renovate and reorganize all of the open space within the 16-acre Weston Field Complex,” Jason Moran, the College’s project manager for the Weston Field project, said. “New construction will consist of the installation of two new fully lit, synthetic fields to be used for football, lacrosse and field hockey; track and field components; 28,000 square feet of team support building; a press box; a 1400-seat home bleacher system; public restrooms; increase in bituminous parking, along with relocating Peck’s Grandstand. The home bleacher system will include the public restrooms, and the Team Support Building will include lockers (home and visitors’), sports medicine, equipment and a multipurpose room.”

Collaboration is key, so that the goals of the project continue to be articulated clearly over the course of construction.

“As the project manager for the Weston Field Project, part of my responsibilities are the overall coordination of the building committee to both the architects and construction manager,” Moran said. “This coordination ensures that all requirements or needs of Williams College with regards to the project are satisfied within the design and implemented during construction.”

 

The College also contracted a local environmental firm, Integrated Energy Strategies, LLC, (IES) to serve as a LEED consultant for the project. IES will coordinate with the architects and construction crews to ensure that sustainability issues remain a primary concern in the building process.

 

“Weston Field will earn credits in all seven LEED categories,” Stephanie Boyd of IES said. “At present, the design earns 12 Sustainable Sites points, six Water Efficiency points, 24 Energy and Atmosphere points, seven Materials and Resources points, nine Indoor Environmental Quality points, one Innovation and Design Process point and two Regional Priority points.”

 

The Weston renovations specifically address issues of efficiency in how materials are used in construction and how the complex will use natural resources in the future.

 

“This [renovation] involves water reduction elements, solar panels for electricity generation, super insulated exterior wall assemblies, occupancy sensors which control electric and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning use, a construction waste recycling program, high efficiency mechanical equipment and environmentally friendly products such as paint and flooring materials,” Moran said.

 

The way the proposed Weston complex will use water is of particular concern.

 

“The Team Support Building at Weston has a lot of showers and bathrooms (that’s one of its primary functions), so water efficiency has been a real focus in the project – high performance shower heads, waterless urinals and efficient toilets will help cut the water use in the building significantly,” Johns said.

 

Additionally, the proposed Weston complex will also consider how its structure complements the existing landscape.

 

“I think this particular iteration of the design really enhances the park-like quality of the site and orients it into the perfect footprint in order to take advantage of its location. It respects the creek that runs through there, Christmas Brook,” Klass said. “It’s also meant to help reduce in some ways the impact of the water runoff into the Brook, because as you know, we sometimes get these major storms and it overflows. This is a way to provide better drainage and improved runoff from the site. It respects the way that it’s located on the larger site particularly in that respect.”

 

Just as the proposed design capitalizes on the ideally symbiotic relationship between Weston and its site, the collaboration between IES and the College is a wonderful asset to the campus-wide renovation process.

 

“IES is very happy to be working with [the] College on three major construction and renovation projects: LEED gold certification of the Stetson-Sawyer Library, Living Building Challenge certification of the Kellogg House renovations and LEED gold certification of the Weston Field project,” Boyd said.

 

Coupled with the partnership with IES, the College’s efforts to renovate Weston are well positioned to result in significant construction.

 

“Every effort will be made to complete the detailed design work in time to begin construction after the 2013 fall season and finish it in time for the following fall,” Falk said. “The design work will be overseen by a Weston Athletic Complex Project Committee, co-chaired by Will Dudley [’89], provost and professor of philosophy, and Lisa Melendy, athletic director.”

 

While past delays may suggest that the Weston complex renovations may again slow to a crawl, the financial and conceptual momentum behind the project suggest that construction will follow soon.

 

“We believe the Weston Field Project will be a wonderful project and a great addition to the campus,” Moran said.