Williams Inn will be 'living room' of community, designers say


WILLIAMSTOWN — Promising a new inn that will reflect the spirit of the village around it, the designers putting together plans for a new Williams Inn gave an update on the project on Tuesday and fielded questions from the community.

"How can we add energy and vitality and economic support for Spring Street?" asked Stefanie Greenfield of Cambridge Seven Associates of Cambridge. "That's always been the mission of this project."

The latest of Williams' long list of building projects has been in the works for the past two years, when the college purchased the current Williams Inn at the intersection of Routes 2 and 7 in 2014 from Marilyn and Carl Faulkner, who had run the 124-room establishment since 1979.

The project jumped ahead quickly last May, when voters at the annual town meeting approved by a voice vote an expansion of the village business district to enable the project.

Work is scheduled to begin in September 2017, and be completed by May 2019, said Rita Coppola-Wallace, the college's executive director for the Office of Planning, Design and Construction.

The building will include 85 to 90 rooms, a restaurant and function rooms, and meet several ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy-use benchmarks.

On Tuesday, representatives from the architectural, landscape, and interior design teams gave a presentation of their early thinking to a group of about 20 people who gathered at the current Williams Inn. They listened politely, and raised a few lingering questions about the issue of traffic, a major concern that had been raised in the spring.

The proposed building will be on a crescent of buildable land near the college's current storage barns at the bottom of Spring Street. Since part of the area are wetlands, Greenfield said it presents "unique challenges and opportunities."

"We take this project really to heart as stewards of the landscape," she said. "That what we build here be truly memorable, meaningful and the best use of this land."

The plans would include elements that respect the idea of "New England vernacular," with gables, eaves and chimneys, designed in stone and wood. The main building would call to mind a farmhouse, the restaurant and bar a barn-like structure, and the service areas would be angled back away from the street.

"The most important public functions need to engage Spring Street," she said. "At its best this will be the living room of the town."

Interior designer Bill Rooney of Bill Rooney Studios said it will feature a lot of wood and stone and natural elements.

"It shouldn't be over grand," he said. "It needs to be something with an authentic scale, something that feels correct to the idea of a farmhouse."

Glen Valentine of Stephen Stimson Associates, the landscape architect, said preserving different themes of village, forest and meadow in the area as a park-like space would be important.

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"We look around at these landscapes as a kind of palette," he said.

Some of the thinking includes a line of trees that lead to the site, and a bridge that would become a part of the landscape itself.

It also could feature vegetable and herb gardens as landscaping, to create a "garden-to-table experience" at the restaurant, and designing the parking area for about 122 cars with an "orchard" theme in mind, with trees and terraces (separate from the town parking lots nearby, which will be kept).

One possible new feature Valentine mentioned is a sort of modest outdoor amphitheater along Christmas Brook near Latham Street. Valentine noted a similar sort of space near the public library in Camden, Maine, which can serve as a formal performance space, or a simple park.

To open up that space, the current American Legion building will be moved, along with the building that is the current location of Lickety Split. Greenfield said they are in early talks about finding a way to include a space for an ice cream stand.

One member of the audience asked what the space would have for kids, since that small lawn is a popular spot in a part of town without a lot of good spaces for kids.

"This idea of a park, which is in its beginning stages, gets to the heart of the matter," Valentine said. "It's a place to sit, but also a place to explore."

But as in the spring, concerns about traffic and parking again were raised.

Williams has undertaken a major construction boom on the south side of its campus in recent years, including ongoing work on a 178,000-square-foot addition to the science center and a brand-new 15,000-square-foot bookstore building, all of which comes just a few years after a major rebuild of its athletic facilities.

The current thinking is that the inn would be the functional end of Spring Street, and that Denison Park Drive — which currently loops around to Hoxsey Street — would be closed off and become solely a way to get to the Susan B. Hopkins House dormitory and the Oakley Center.

Coppola-Wallace said exiting traffic will likely go down Latham Street and on to Water Street, where she acknowledged that traffic studies have shown some problems. Possible solutions the town may pursue include better marked lanes for right and left turns onto Main Street, or a rotary at the intersection such as been added in Manchester, Vt.

"There's discussion," she said. "We're working closely with the town on that. It's not something we're looking at in a vacuum."

James Kolesar, assistant to the president for community and government affairs, said there is also discussion about extending Walden Street to South Street, where it could help move traffic back to Main Street better than Hoxsey Street could.

Coppola-Wallace also said that they are continuing to work on flooding issues related to Christmas Brook on Latham Street. The town has built a culvert there, and the college plans to increase drainage toward the Green River.

"That's another separate project we're looking at," she said, "but our goal is to have that finished when the inn is finished."


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