Campus living room

Posted

Friday, February 16
WILLIAMSTOWN — For all its modest charm, Baxter Hall, the steamboatlike former student center at Williams College, just didn't get the job done. So while the college zoomed along with a new science center, a new performing arts center and plans for a new library, it lacked a single spot where students could meet, interact and relax.

"We were really wanting in that respect," said Nancy Roseman, dean of students. "We had a snack bar and a mailroom."

That problem is solved, with the construction of the Paresky Center, a $44.5 million, 72,000-square-foot facility that will officially open for students today. Tomorrow, the college will host an open house for the public from 9 to 11 a.m. as part of the Winter Carnival festivities.

The new building is shaping up as the campus's living room. The Baxter Great Hall features a two-story space with sofas, a giant Vermont slate fireplace and plenty of natural light. It is designed to call to mind an Adirondack ski lodge, with what the college calls its "rustic construction, comfortable furnishing, generous proportions and open fireplaces."

Multipurpose space

Off the main hall are a snack bar and the college's mailroom. Upstairs are mostly offices, with space for the administrative offices of campus and residential life, the chaplains and student groups such as student government and the college newspaper. In the basement is a pub-style grillroom, along with the college bakery, a takeout meal spot, a gelato stand and a small movie theater that can be used by student performing arts groups.

The edifice was designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, whose other projects include the Brown Fine Arts Center at Smith College in Northampton and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. It features plenty of views, both within the building — between floors and sections — and outside, toward the Chapin Hall lawn and, in the distance, the Greylock mountain range.

Changing with the times

The building replaces Baxter Hall, which opened in 1954 at a cost of $1.5 million. Baxter was designed as a place for freshmen to eat and pick up their mail before joining a fraternity. "It was built for a very different campus," Roseman said, when there were about half the number of current students.

Many elements of the former Baxter Hall were incorporated into the new design, including the curve of the snack bar. The original plan was to include the old mailboxes from Baxter, but Roseman said subsequent research showed an important reason to replace them: They were not big enough to hold DVDs.

Roseman said the new building was not based on a competitive "arms race" with comparable schools, but solely on an identified need for the college community. But she did admit that, because Williams built a new center relatively late compared with other schools, it presented something of an opportunity.

"We learned a lot from other schools, but I wouldn't say we are trying to compete with them," she said.

Green building

The student center also includes several green building ideas, such as its radiant floor: Beneath the wood and slate floor is a honeycomb of metal igloos through which warm air can circulate in winter and cool air in summer, creating a more direct way to handle temperature control.

The new building is just part of the current building boom on campus. Work began in November 2004 and was completed half a year behind schedule because of the discovery of a heating oil leak from an underground tank.

In 2005, the college completed work on the new $50 million Class of 1962 Center for Theater and Dance. And once the ground thaws, the first phase of a $128 million initiative to replace Sawyer Library will begin. Those plans, expected to wrap up in 2011, call for a new library and two additional academic buildings for the humanities.


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