College plans nearly $300 million in construction projects

Construction on the new Library Quad and Chapin Plaza will be finished by fall of 2016. Photo courtesy of facilities.
Construction on the new Library Quad and Chapin Plaza will be finished by fall of 2016. Photo courtesy of facilities.

The College has undertaken a collection of renovation and construction projects that will cost about $287 million over the next five years.           

Currently, the College is either actively engaged in or on the eve of launching nine substantial construction projects, with 10 more on the list of potential long-range plans. These projects incorporate all chapters of the College: academic and administrative buildings, student dorms, athletic facilities and more.

Library Quad

Completion date: Fall 2016. Cost (including teardown of Old Sawyer): $12 million. While the College will host Library Quad’s first official event on Oct. 3 – the Campaign Kickoff Celebration – the final plans for the space won’t be completed until the start of the 2016-’17 academic year. Plans include enlarged pedestrian walkways surrounding Paresky Lawn, a reconfiguration of traffic flow on Chapin Hall Drive, the construction of Chapin Plaza on the incline between Chapin Hall and the Quad and additional sidewalks crossing the Quad. Chapin Hall Drive will be vehicle-accessible from Main St. to the First Congregational Church parking lot and from Park Street to Sage Hall, where a rotary will be placed between Sage and Chapin to function as a pick-up and drop-off point during events. The College will also construct dditional sidewalks traversing Library Quad. The College is inviting this year’s students to walk across the Quad in whichever ways they feel most convenient – the most heavily used routes will be converted to sidewalks next fall. Chapin Plaza will be composed of marble and granite benches, trees and green space and will be located outside Bernhard Music Center, serving as an outdoor gathering space.

Chapin Hall

Completion date: Oct. 23, 2015. Cost: $5.5 million (all donations). The first stage of Chapin’s renovation occurred three years ago, addressing the plumbing, structural and foundational needs of the building. The current phase of renovation has focused on refurbishing the building’s interior: replacing all seating, the construction of an expansive dual-part stage and the installation of a piano lift. The most visibly recognizable differences will be the configuration of two main isles instead of one, as well as the replacement of the outer pews with individual seats angled towards the stage. The stage will sit closer to the audience and extend into the first seven rows of seating when the extension is in use, which will be used primarily for orchestral performances to improve acoustics. Previously, when Chapin’s piano was removed from the stage in order to make room for performances, the facilities department would send up to 10 workers to manually transport and store the piano. This renovation involves installing a lift, allowing for the piano to automatically descend into a storage unit in the basement. Following the renovation, Chapin will offer seating for just shy of 700 people.

Unified Science Center

Completion date: Summer 2020. Cost: around $200 million. Renovations to Unified Science Center will consist of two main projects: the construction of a new Bronfman center and the creation of a new Morley science wing extending through the rear of Schow Science Library. (See page 1)

Stetson Court Residence Hall

Completion date: July 2016. Cost: $15 million. The College’s newest dorm will be complete for the 2016-17 academic year, providing students the opportunity to pick in to the dorm during this year’s housing lottery. Located on Stetson Ct. adjacent to Chadbourne House, the dorm will be composed of one main building and two outer buildings complete with lounge and study rooms, as well as a fully-equipped kitchen. The residence will be suite-style, with six people per suite sharing a bathroom and two suites sharing a large common area. The residence will also have a lawn, located between the dorm and Brooks parking lot.

The Log

Completion date: mid-Oct. 2015. Cost: $4.5 million (all donations). Built in 1941 and largely untouched since, the Log has undergone a long-awaited renovation in the last year. Originally purposed as a student center but used only as a gathering space and banquet venue in recent years, the Log will once again house a restaurant, bar and performance stage. The restaurant will not be managed by dining services – the College is currently in negotiations with local restaurants in efforts to have the kitchen managed by a third party. The restaurant will operate in a manner similar to ’82 Grill, allowing students to order their food at a counter and wait for it to be prepared. The bar will serve beer and wine and allow all students to enter, though only students of age may order alcohol. While students will not be able to use meal swipes or Eph Dollars (points) at the Log, there will be a substantial student discount on food after 5 p.m. The Log will be open to the public but has been designed primarily as a student space, offering a venue for a cappella, music, stand-up comedy and other performances.

Goodrich Hall

Completion date: Summer 2017. Cost: $3 million. Goodrich will be closed for the entire 2016-17 academic year to allow for extensive renovations to the building’s framing and foundation. Goodrich was constructed in 1859 as a chapel and has not benefitted from a structural renovation since. Though the search for a temporary location for Goodrich Coffee Bar has not produced any viable spots, the College is confident that a location will be found.

Spring St. Bookstore

Completion date: Aug. 2017. Cost: $10 million. The corner of Spring St. and Walden St. will soon see the construction of a new College-owned bookstore. Follett Higher Education, the managing firm of Water St. Books, will inhabit the bottom two floors of the three-story building, while the third floor will be mainly office space. The first floor will feature a café serving coffee and premade meals, likely operated by a third party vendor.

Weston Hall

Completion date: Dec. 2015. Cost: $13 million. The admission office will soon move into its new home in Weston Hall. A new presentation room will allow up to 100 prospective students and their families to attend information sessions in Weston without having to walk to Bronfman Auditorium or Paresky Auditorium, where information sessions are currently held. The building will also feature an outdoor patio with tables and chairs. The admissions office will migrate in Dec. following deliberations on Early Decision applicants and preceding deliberations on Regular Decision applicants. The office of financial aid will also move to Weston upon its completion.

Cogeneration Boiler and Generator

Completion date: Summer 2016. Cost: $8 million. A mechanical addition that will likely never be seen or realized by most students, a new cogeneration boiler and generator will be created in the campus’ power facility located behind the field house. Although a handful of buildings at Williams possess their own backup generators, none would prove sufficient if faced with a prolonged power outage. The new generator will provide power to all student dorms (except those on the outskirts of campus such as Tyler House, Tyler Annex, Poker Flats, Susan Hopkins and others), dining halls, the facilities complex, Hopkins Hall, Jesup Hall and the Science Quad research facilities in the event of a power outage.

The College also has a list of construction plans that will become active in the near future. Most of these plans are still in preliminary planning stages and it is possible that many will not come to fruition in the near future.

St. Anthony’s Hall

St. Anthony’s Hall, which houses the Center for Developmental Economics (CDE), has been analyzed by both the College and a third party architect and deemed inadequate for the program’s needs. An addition to the rear of the building is likely in order to provide for increased residential space for graduate students, allowing for more academic and study areas in the main building. At present, the College is aiming to raise more funding for the project and will likely not proceed if funding and donations are not secured.

Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)

The administration is aiming to conclude an extensive study of the needs of the art department and WCMA in December of this year. The results of the study, which will be published by the end of this academic year, will reveal those needs as well as the relationships between classrooms, museum exhibits, offices and other spaces. The College will use this information in designing a new art museum; however, it is still undecided when construction will begin, which site will be chosen, and what architectural firm will be hired.

New England Hotel

The College has begun planning the construction of a new hotel, likely to be located in the general vicinity of the bottom of Spring St. The next step in constructing the hotel is a presentation by the College to a zoning committee at the Williamstown Town Hall in May 2016. Provided the College receives approval on their preliminary plans, a more concrete and extensive proposal will be drafted.

Health Center

While the Health Center’s facilities are sufficient for the College’s current needs, it is projected that they will become inadequate in the coming years. The College has long spoken of relocating the Health Center to a more centralized location on campus; however, it appears that this will become a reality only after all current students have graduated.

Behind the construction

Unique architectural firms are managing all current construction projects. The College, however, frequently rehires firms that produce positive results for future projects. It is both possible and likely that firms currently employed by the College will return in the future to manage additional projects.

Notwithstanding the multitude of firms operating projects, the College holds all operations to lofty environmental standards. The College aims to have all buildings that cost over $5 million adhere to LEED Gold standards, a benchmark set by the United States Green Building Council. None of the current or planned future projects will produce self-sustaining buildings, such as the Class of 1966 Environmental Center completed last year; however, all College buildings will be constructed with environmental efficiency in mind.

Environmental awareness is not the only principle the College has strived to achieve in campus construction. All projects and planning have been driven by program, allowing those who will most frequently use new buildings to have a substantial influence in their design and creation. The College has consulted with faculty, students, and experts to determine how new infrastructure will most effectively address and facilitate the future academic needs of the College.

This initiative to engage in so many construction projects has partially stemmed from the recent performance of the College’s endowment. The Williams Investment Office believes that the endowment is capable of achieving an annualized real rate of return of five percent, allowing the College to spend up to five percent of the endowment each year without decreasing its size. Considering the upward trajectory the endowment has recently maintained, the school may be looking at up to $120 million dollars in annual spending allowances in the coming years.

It is unclear whether the College will pursue all of the construction ventures suggested. It is evident that many buildings across Williams will be transforming in the near future. Whichever projects the College decides to undertake, it i that the ever-present orchestra of construction materials won’t be leaving campus anytime soon.