Thursday, February 26
WILLIAMSTOWN — The complicated $80 million Williams College plan to attach a new library to Stetson Hall and tear down the existing library is on hold indefinitely.

When the project begins will depend on when the economy returns to stability, college officials said.

The library job, known as the Stetson/Sawyer Project, is phase two of a $118 million capital improvement plan. Phase one, the $38 million construction of two new academic buildings and a remote library shelving facility, was completed last summer.

"We were going to go right in and begin that (Stetson/Sawyer Project) about now," said Stephen Klass, vice president of operations at Williams, before the slumping economy forced the college to put the plans on hold.

Meanwhile, officials are completing construction documents and staging plans so the project will be shovel-ready when a green light finally comes on. And there is a lot of planning to do.

Before construction can begin, two houses to the north of Stetson, the Seeley and Kellogg houses, have to be removed. One will be relocated, the fate of the other has yet to be decided. Then, the two current additions to Stetson — one put up in the 1920s and the other in the 1950s — will be demolished.

"This hiatus has given us the ability to refine this design and the schedule," Klass said. "In another couple of months, we'll have 100 percent construction documents, we'll know what our schedule looks like, and we'll be shovel-ready. So we've been using this time wisely."

He said that with the economic downturn, construction costs are relatively low right now. But the volatility in the credit market makes it difficult to budget for unstable interest rates.

"We have to have confidence that for a considerable amount of time there will be a consistent matching of our cash flow needs with the cost of money in the credit marketplace," Klass said. "And we'll have to know that a few months in advance. But right now it's still pretty volatile."

If the credit markets beat the odds and settle down quickly over the next few months, the work might start in the fall. But barring that, work is unlikely for over a year or more, Klass said.

The best season to begin the relocation of the houses and the demolition work is the fall, with construction to start the following spring "to get around the weather conditions," Klass said.

Then over a period of two years, 123,000 square feet of new library space will be built, stretching north from the rear of the 46,000-square-foot Stetson Hall. The addition will use common elements of the campus and will include ample glass to allow sunlight into the new space, he said.

Once that is done, library staff and resources will be moved in, and the 100,000-square-foot Sawyer Library, built in 1973, will be torn down. After the building is gone and the site cleaned up, it will be landscaped and remain as campus green space.

According to David Pilachowski, college librarian, as the college has grown, so has the library's collection, and there is little room left for books.

"The space that we have isn't very flexible and is overcrowded. We're out of space," he said.

Studies made it evident that adding to Stetson would be cheaper than renovating and adding to Sawyer, Pilachowski said.

And the historic symmetry is also evident — Stetson was built in 1923 to serve as the school's library.

"It's sort of back to the past and back to the future as well," Pilachowski said.

Users of the library will find it more convenient technologically and practically because the campus special collections, the most-used library volumes, and the digital volumes will be located there.

Pilachowski said the library will be worth the wait.

"It's disappointing that we've had this delay, but I also fully appreciate the reasons why we have to do it," he said. "And as we go through the last phase of planning, we're getting increasingly excited by the architect's vision. We know we're going to have a great building."

Once the project is complete, Klass said, "you'll have this beautiful new sight line from the new Paresky Student Center all the way to the restored front door of Stetson, which will be a beautiful, historic opening into the new library. So it will be a really wonderful re-enhancement of an historically important space on campus."