Williams College's $86 million library project nearing completion


View photos of the library here

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Largely unseen by the college community, about 200 tradespeople are feverishly toiling to finish work on Williams College's new, $86 million library.

It was designed to encompass, and repurpose, the original library, which was built in 1922 and turned to other uses in 1975 when Sawyer Library opened.

The new structure, designed by the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson architecture firm, required the demolition of two additions that were made to the original Stetson in 1956 and 1962, and then the construction of a new, 131,704 square-foot addition to the back of the original 44,572 square-foot building.

Work is set to be "substantially" complete by March 1, according to Bruce Decoteau, senior project manager at Williams College.

David Pilachowski, college librarian, said that once the move-in is complete, the new library should be open by late July. In the summer of 2015, Sawyer Library, which opened in 1975, is set to be demolished, with green space to take its place.

This project is a comprehensive job of new construction, historic conservation and structural renovation, all at the same time.

The visual juxtaposition between the old and new is prevalent throughout the structure, even celebrated with a number of architectural flourishes. One of them is in the common area on the third level where one can see the entirety of the original Stetson façade completely encompassed by the new structure.

Even the Chapin Library, which is a dedicated space inside Stetson that houses historic volumes and documents, is being renovated and modernized, while keeping all of the original, historic wood and plaster embellishments.

The new building incorporates technology and space-saving book stacks that capitalize on wireless capacity and book storage space.

"Anywhere on the continuum of information media, be it prehistoric or digital, students will have access to staff with that expertise," Pilachowski said.

There are video conferencing capabilities, as well as a number of new classrooms and faculty offices. There will be seating for 850 people in a library that serves a student enrollment of about 2,000.

The new library was designed to provide collaborative spaces, where groups can work together.

"More faculty today are looking for students to work together," Pilachowski noted.

The exterior views are invigorated by large windows and skylights, with reflective surfaces driving the natural light through much of the five-story addition.

The new library has been in planning since about 1998. At that time, noted Pilachowski, projections showed that the book collection would outgrow the space in Sawyer Library, which opened in 1975, by 2005.

College officials were ready to start construction in 2008 -- to the point of moving people out of the Stetson building -- when the Great Recession hit. Credit markets dried up and projects like this were halted around the country.

After a three-year delay, work started in earnest in June of 2011.

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