Work continues on a new 60-bed dormitory on Stetson Court.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College on Thursday laid out its plans to dramatically change its campus and heard feedback from downtown merchants concerned about the growing pains those changes might create.
The school's executive director for design and construction gave an hourlong presentation at Images Cinema.
Rita Coppola-Wallace gave an update on the status of the college's current project and a look at what's to come, including a new bookstore on Spring Street, a new science center and a new Williams Inn.
Two of those projects, the college hopes, will bring increased vitality to the village business district in the long run.
In the short term, business owners at the Thursday morning presentation raised concerns about the impact of more construction projects on downtown's limited parking supply.
"Parking on Spring Street was tough this summer with the Log project," Bruce Goff said, referring to the college's renovation of the 1941 Spring Street structure into a full-time restaurant and bar.
"It would have been more beneficial if you had asked workers to park at the rink. Do you have plans to ask [future] contractors to park away from the public lot?"
Coppola-Wallace said the college plans to write clauses into future contracts that call for contractors' employees to not use the town's parking lot at the bottom of Spring Street. The problem, she said, is enforcement because the lot itself is a public lot.
"We are talking, especially with the science center project, about negotiating with our proposed contractors about how they will make sure contractors park elsewhere," Coppola-Wallace said. "We've given them options. We think we may have a shuttle system to bring them from an off-site lot.
"We've met with [Town Planner Andrew Goff and Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz]. We're working closely with the town. We recognize that is a problem, and we are working toward that goal. We hope we will not have that same problem next year."
Next year is when the college plans to begin a four-year construction project to build the new $200 million science center.
The 1964 Bronfman Science Center is inefficient and inadequate to meet the college's growing needs in the hard sciences.
"Enrollments in the sciences are up," said Assistant to the President James Kolesar, who joined Coppola-Wallace. "We have more faculty teaching science and faculty coming in with research needs have demands for lab space."
The college kicked off a $650 million fundraising campaign on Saturday night to strengthen core elements of the college. Among the priorities of the multi-year Teach It Forward: The Campaign for Williams is $100 million toward the science center and investments and further investments in science education.
Bronfman's shear-wall construction design does not allow for any flexibility to reconfigure the space within, Coppola-Wallace said, and she described the current science center as an "energy hog."
The planned new science center will be nearly double the size of Bronfman (170,000 square feet vs. 90,000 square feet) but will use less energy, Coppola-Wallace said.
"One of the college's goals is we do not build anything unless it's net zero energy," she said.
Construction of the new center will necessitate shuffling faculty around that end of campus and utilizing modular space, Coppola-Wallace said. The college plans a completion date in 2020.
By August 2017, the college plans to have a new bookstore erected a the corner of Spring and Walden streets in the so-called Wilmott Lot.
Coppola-Wallace said the college is aiming for LEED Gold standard of sustainable construction on the planned three-story, 15,000 square foot building.
The Follett Higher Education Group has been named the manager of the planned book store, which will have a cafe on the first floor and office space managed by the college on the third, Coppola-Wallace said.
No timetable — or location — has been decided for the college's planned new inn to replace the Williams Inn on Main Street.
Earlier this year, Williams asked the Planning Board to look at an expansion of the Village Business District to include land south of Main Street currently used by the college's facilities department. That request was withdrawn so the school could continue to look at options.
Coppola-Wallace said the Agway/Denison Barns site on Denison Park Drive is still on the table, but she also showed a conceptual drawing that had the new inn built adjacent to the current Spring Street parking lot and fronting the thoroughfare itself.
In either concept, Coppola-Wallace said, the inn project would involve an expansion of the current public lot — either just south of the lot (in the case of the Denison Park Drive site) or behind the new inn.
Coppola-Wallace's presentation also included updates on the college's ongoing construction projects, which indlude the new residence hall on Stetson Court (the college's first new dorm since the 1970s), the renovation of Chapin Hall and the new quad on land formerly occupied by Sawyer Library.
She also said the college has a number of items on its wish list, including an expansion to the 1886 St. Anthony Hall on Main Street, an indoor tennis facility, an expansion of the Shaw Boat House on Onota Lake in Pittsfield and a construction project involving the Williams College Museum of Art. She characterized those projects as being in the "very preliminary" stage.
Kolesar said the projects currently on the drawing board will cost in the neighborhood of $300 million. He said the college is "very conservative with its financial planning" and has been more conservative since the global financial crisis in 2008.
"We have to raise the bulk of the money [now] before we start projects," Kolesar said. "We're confident these are good fiscal choices as well as educational choices."
Thursday morning's presentation at Images preceded the Saturday evening event for what the college described as "an unprecedented campaign for Williams," according to its website. The campaign has already secured $374 million in commitments toward its overall goal. It completed its nearly $100 million library project, including the demolition of the old Sawyer library, last year.
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