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A layout of Williams' proposed multipurpose recreation center. The planned facility (in dark gray) will cut into the existing outdoor tennis courts, eliminating seven of the 12 courts currently used for recreation, and contain a 200-meter track, storage, restrooms, showers and a training room.
Updated March 22, 2024 10:20AM

Williams Seeking Town Approval for New Indoor Practice Facility

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board last week gave Williams College the first approval it needs to build a 55,000-square foot indoor athletic facility on the north side of its campus.
Over the strenuous objection of a Southworth Street resident, the board found that the college's plan for a "multipurpose recreation center" or MRC off Stetson Road has adequate on-site parking to accommodate its use as an indoor practice facility to replace Towne Field House, which has been out of commission since last spring and was demolished this winter.
The college plans a pre-engineered metal that includes a 200-meter track ringing several tennis courts, storage for teams, restrooms, showers and a training room. The athletic surface also would be used as winter practice space for the school's softball and baseball teams, who, like tennis and indoor track, used to use the field house off Latham Street.
Since the planned structure is in the watershed of Eph's Pond, the college will be before the Conservation Commission with the project.
It also will be before the Zoning Board of Appeals, on Thursday, for a Development Plan Review and relief from the town bylaw limiting buildings to 35 feet in height. The new structure is designed to have a maximum height of 53 1/2 feet and an average roof height of 47 feet.
The additional height is needed for two reasons: to meet the NCAA requirement for clearance above center court on a competitive tennis surface (35 feet) and to include, on one side, a climbing wall, an element also lost when Towne Field House was razed.
The Planning Board had a few issues to resolve at its March 12 meeting. The most heavily discussed involved the parking determination for a use not listed in the town's zoning bylaws and a decision on whether access from town roads to the building site in the middle of Williams' campus was "functionally equivalent" to the access that would be required under the town's subdivision rules and regulations.
The parking decision generated the most objection from Jack McGonagle, a resident of Southworth Street, the nearest town road to the proposed site of the MRC.
The college proposed up to 13 parking spaces at the new structure — enough to handle the expected use by coaches, trainers and Facilities Department vehicles during peak usage of the practice facility.
College counsel Jamie Art told the Planning Board that down the road — presumably after the college replaces the athletic infrastructure where the field house once stood — the MRC could be converted to an indoor tennis facility for competition. And, if there was such a change in use, the college would be back before the board for a new parking determination. for an updated special permit with new parking plans.
McGonagle told the board that Williams already has a parking problem generated by the outdoor tennis courts adjacent to where the MRC is proposed and that a new practice facility in the neighborhood only would exacerbate those problems.
"Parking on Southworth Street is an issue any time Williams has an event at tennis, period, plain and simple," McGonagle said. "The college doesn't want to admit it. But it's a fact.
"They've got half a dozen spots on Lynde Lane [which runs between Southworth Street and Stetson Road]. Everybody else parks on Southworth Street. They turn around in all the neighbors' driveways, mine included."
Art stressed that the college only envisions coaches and other college employees parking at the new indoor practice facility and that student-athletes would be encouraged to either walk or bicycle to the MRC.
And he indicated the college's aim was to build only the parking area that it knows it will need to serve the facility.
"We're trying to provide parking for [coaches] while, at the same time, meeting the Planning Board and zoning bylaw's stated purpose to minimize impervious surface and not oversupply parking, writ large, in town," Art said.
McGonagle told the planners that he has observed the college's student-athletes driving to practices at other college venues, and he expects that same practice will continue regardless of the school's "encouragement" that they walk or use bicycles to get to practice.
"Parking is an issue," he said. "There's not enough down there now. This is transferring all the activity from Towne Field House down to the Southworth Street, Lynde Lane area. That's a fact. A hope and a dream is not a strategy. That's what this is. They're hoping [the student-athletes are] going to walk.
"All the seniors and juniors live downtown. All the kids drive. That's a fact, plain and simple. They're a bunch of rich college kids. They all drive. That's what they do. Encouraging them to walk or bike at 6 a.m.? At 8 p.m.? Guess what, they're driving. They're going to fill those six spots on Lynde Lane, and then they're going to turn around in my driveway. That's what's been going on for six years. And it's only going to get worse."
Art said the college has met repeatedly with neighbors in developing the MRC proposal and has made modifications based on that feedback, including orienting the planned building's entrance to face Stetson Road.
"I totally understand why Jack is opposed to the project," Art said. "It's a change to the land use of the spot directly across the street from his front yard. I get it. Most of the issues about why that building is sited on that spot … are on the Zoning Board's agenda for next week. I'll defer on that stuff.
"We can't control the parking on Southworth Street. That is under the [Select Board's] control as far as what the hours are, whether they ticket, whether they tow. That is all stuff that is beyond the college's control. We can't manage that. We can come up with a parking plan that we think is the right capacity equivalent to what is required under listed plans."
Two members of the five-person Planning Board, Cory Campbell and Kenneth Kuttner, recused themselves from the board's consideration of the MRC proposal because they are employees of the college.
Kuttner nevertheless addressed the board from the floor of the public hearing.
"Students have a strong preference for driving and frequently use cars for very short trips," Kuttner told his colleagues. "[McGonagle] is right. 'Encouragement' to walk or cycle may not be as effective as hoped."
Kuttner's comments were directed mainly at another issue before the board: whether the plan for the MRC provides access that is "functionally equivalent" to that of a subdivision.
Kuttner argued that in order to do so, the college would have needed to show that there were dedicated pedestrian rights of way and or sidewalks on Stetson Road (south of Lynde and toward campus) and Lynde Lane.
After a lengthy discussion, the board added a condition to its finding on "functional equivalency:" that the college submit a revised pedestrian access plan for Lynde Lane and Stetson Road north to the MRC from Lynde Lane.
It did not condition approval on the creation of a sidewalk or pedestrian right-of-way for Stetson Road south of Lynde Lane, as Planner Roger Lawrence suggested. Art said the school hopes to address pedestrian traffic on various parts of campus, including the area near the Mission Park dorm (catty-cornered to the competition tennis courts) as part of a larger campus plan.
In the meantime, the college has not experienced a "history of congestion or injuries or accidents" on Stetson Road north of Lynde, Art said.
Town Planner Andrew Groff backed up that point.
"Think of Colonial Village and neighborhoods we're familiar with that are dense enough to be walkable but inherently safe [without a sidewalk]," Groff said. "I think the Mission Park area functions nearly identically."
The Planning Board voted, 2-1, with Lawrence in the minority, to find that the college's plan provided functionally equivalent access to the new facility.
It voted 3-0 to approve the college's parking plan.
"I think sidewalk-based pedestrian access is a totally appropriate criterion for us to judge on," Chair Peter Beck said. "And it's actually the access issue, rather than the parking issue.
"On the parking, I'd say I also think we've seen this in this town and other places: Parking lots also create demand for driving. … If someone expects there to be parking on the other side, they're more likely to drive. So if 20 people were going to drive where there are 13 spots, when they know there are 30 spots, 40 people are going to drive there.
"I wish that wasn't the case, but building more parking does increase the likelihood someone will get in a car. I think more spots will drive more traffic demand."
McGonagle promised to continue raising his objections before the Con Comm (which could not hold a planned March 14 hearing on the MRC due to a lack of quorum) and the Zoning Board on March 21. He already has shared with the latter body a 43-page PDF he submitted to the college outlining different options for the structure.
"We've been encouraging the college to have a dedicated [parking] lot for this — I'm calling it a monstrosity, because that's what it is," McGonagle said at one point. "That's for the Zoning Board. I'm going to go to that one, too."
In other business on Thursday, the Planning Board learned that the owner of Sweetwood will not be bringing a proposal to create an overlay district to May's annual town meeting, and the board held its official public hearing on a bylaw it is bringing to town meeting that would enable the creation of "cottage court" developments in the General Residence district.
"The last two meetings we had with the Planning Board were extremely helpful and informative for my client — so much so that we're going to not proceed with this round of town meeting and work with Andrew [Groff] and come back to the Planning Board with some concepts we hope will address the concerns you have," said Jeffrey Grandchamp, attorney for CareOne, the owner of Sweetwood. "We didn't want to try to rush it through in this round.
"You were nice enough to inform our thoughts and were very helpful for us."
The cottage court bylaw has been in the works by the Planning Board for the last two years. The latest — and last change — before the bylaw amendment was submitted to the Select Board for inclusion on the town meeting warrant dealt with short-term rentals.
Specifically, Subsection 7 of the proposed bylaw specifies that no cottage created in the denser developments the bylaw would allow could be rented on a short term basis for more than 150 days in a calendar year.
The language mirrors a proposal that the planners sent the Select Board in hopes the latter body would generate a bylaw proposal governing short-term rentals (commonly referred to by the trade name Airbnb) townwide. The Planning Board has repeatedly heard that bylaws that allow greater density in the town's core would be used to create de facto full-time vacation rentals, rather than permanent housing; Section 7 is meant to inoculate the cottage court bylaw against that argument.
Paragraph 7(c) of the proposed cottage court bylaw specifies that any townwide ordinance would supersede Subsection 7 if the town someday passes the regulation the planners have suggested.
No members of the public commented on the bylaw proposal, titled "Cottage Housing Bylaw," at the public hearing.

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SVMC Recognized for Excellence in Emergency Nursing

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The Kendall Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has been selected as a recipient of the Emergency Nurses Association's 2024 Lantern Award for demonstrating excellence in leadership, practice, education, advocacy and research performance.
The Lantern Award showcases emergency department's (ED) accomplishments in incorporating evidence-based practice and innovation into emergency care. As part of the application, EDs are encouraged to share stories that highlight a commitment to patient care, in addition to the well-being of nursing staff. The award serves as a visible symbol of a commitment to quality, safety and a healthy work environment.
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The Kendall Emergency Department at SVMC is also the first ED in Vermont to receive the award.
"This honor highlights the collaborative decision-making and shared governance within our ED," said Jill Maynard, director of emergency nursing at SVMC. "This leadership model is a key attribute of our success, giving our team the tools and support they need to provide skilled and compassionate care to our patients."
In addition to influencing care within the organization, SVMC emergency staff are empowered to be leaders beyond the health system, impacting nurses and other health-care providers throughout the state and country. In the last three years, SVMC's ED nurses have presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics including cultural humility, harm reduction, design considerations for emergency psychiatric care, and orientation strategies for new emergency registered nurses.
SVMC President and CEO Thomas A. Dee congratulated the ED team on receiving the 2024-2027 Lantern Award, and noted that this honor is all the more impressive for being earned during a multiphase renovation of the ED space, part of the VISION 2020: A Decade of Transformation capital campaign.
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