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Williams College plans a temporary structure for lab between Bascom House, left, and Perry House, right, during construction of the new science center.
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A green area to the left shows the location of a town-owned water tank on the Clark Art Institute property; the museum is working with Ameresco Solar to install a 1-acre photovoltaic array above the tank. The colored lines indicate hiking trails.

Williamstown Planning Board OKs Temporary Office, Labs on Stetson Court

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board on Tuesday approved the erection of temporary office and lab space on a Williams College-owned street.
 
The college came to the board for a development plan review for 1,200 square foot of temporary space that will house offices and labs for the math and psychology departments during the construction of the new science center.
 
Williams Director of Real Estate and Legal Affairs Jamie Art told the board the temporary structure on Stetson Court likely will be used until 2020, at which time the college plans to return the space to its current condition.
 
"Under the zoning bylaw, there is no distinction between temporary buildings and permanent buildings, so we need to prove this building complies with all the development standards, which it does," Art told the board. "There's nothing here that requires any relief."
 
He added there was one element of the project for which he sought the board's blessing: the removal of a 30-inch diameter maple tree.
 
"We need to have a finding that the removal of that tree is allowable," Art said. "The reason that tree needs to come down … is that to push this building far enough to the east to [avoid the tree] would make accessible parking impossible."
 
Art said the temporary building does not reflect an increase in staff or students, and it will not change the parking needs in the area, which is served by the same lot behind Brooks Hall that serves the current science center.
 
Most of the discussion at the meeting centered on the aesthetics of the temporary structure.
 
"This building is really long," Planner Ann McCallum said. "It's 100 feet long. By no one's imagination is this an attractive building. It's in a really prominent spot [between Perry House and Bascom House], and it's going to be there for a long time. I'm wondering what you're doing ... to make this not an eyesore for four years."
 
The college's project manager, Jason Miner, and executive director for design and construction, Rita Coppola-Wallace, addressed the concerns raised by McCallum and South Street resident Roger Lawrence, who spoke from the floor of the meeting.
 
Miner said the college is looking at different brick facades that can be used on the road-facing side of the building to complement the yellow brick of Perry to the north and the red brick of Bascom to the south.
 
"We've chosen a higher level finish because of [aesthetics]," Coppola-Wallace said. "We're trying hard to make it aesthetically pleasing. I understand your concerns."
 
Lawrence said he appreciated the college's practice of using high-level materials for its construction projects and appeared pleased that the practice would extend to the temporary structure.
 
"I'm appreciative of the fact that the college is putting structures on Stetson Court, which it owns entirely," Lawrence said. "That is an excellent strategy for reducing the impact on the town."
 
Art pointed out that the college avoided the use of modular buildings for construction offices at the science center site, instead repurposing residences it owns on Walden Street for the job.
 
Miner told the board that the college hopes to install the foundations for the temporary structure this summer and expects the modular units to arrive in October.
 
The Planning Board also approved the development plan for a 1-acre solar photovoltaic array at the Clark Art Institute.
 
A representative of Texas-based Ameresco Solar told the board that the 400-kilowatt installation will supply about 10 percent of the Clark's electrical needs. The installation, which will cover less than 1 percent of the Clark's 135-acre campus, also will cover a pre-existing town-owned water tank on the site.
 
Civil engineer Drew Vardakis, with Amec Foster Wheeler of Chelmsford, told the board that the solar photovoltaic array will be installed using concrete ballasts with no digging required, so the town-owned water tank will not be affected. Town Planner Andrew Groff told the board the town's water department had signed off on the project.
 
The Planning Board gave its blessing, and the project received one last OK from the Conservation Commission two days later. The Clark hopes to have the solar panels online before Jan. 8, 2017.
 
In other business Tuesday, the board set a special July 27 work session to discuss its aspirations for an overhaul of the town's zoning bylaws that would allow for more flexibility of housing types.
 
Groff told the board that he and Town Manager Jason Hoch recently met with representatives of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, who want to hire on the town's behalf consultants from Boston's CoUrbanize and Brookline's Civic Moxie to help gather input from voters about the kinds of zoning changes they would like to see.
 
The board long has discussed its desire to loosen restrictive residential zoning and took steps in that direction a couple of years ago with a 2012 bylaw to allow accessory dwelling units.
 
At its July 27 meeting, the Planning Board will discuss its goals and create a narrative that CoUrbanize will use to help guide the board in its communication with residents.

Tags: Clark Art,   construction,   Planning Board,   solar array,   Williams College,   

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