Developments for Williams and Williamstown

To the Williams community,

Many of you have written to express concern about the pandemic’s effects on our community, including the college closure and its impact on the local economy.

As you may know, hotels across the northern Berkshires are seeing reservations drop to near zero. Most such establishments in the region have closed and either laid off or furloughed their employees. The Williams Inn will also close as of tomorrow, Friday, March 19. This afternoon the Inn management informed their staff that everyone except a skeleton maintenance crew will be furloughed until business can safely resume.

Fred Puddester and Matt Sheehy worked with the Waterford Company, which manages the Inn and employs its staff, to bridge the employees over: we are providing college funds to pay all Inn staff through April 6, and to continue their benefits until they can transition to the state plan at the end of April. By furloughing people as opposed to laying them off, Waterford is committing to recalling employees to their jobs once the Inn is able to reopen.

The Williams College Bookstore is also operated by an outside company, Follett, and the staff are Follett employees. For now the Bookstore will remain open with shortened hours and public health measures in place, and Follett will make its own decisions about continued operations. They understand that we rely on them heavily for textbooks. Even if they need to close the retail store at a future date they have pledged to continue providing our coursebooks, and will offer free shipping with no minimum order.

Ramunto’s at the Log also operates in a Williams-owned building. They are still offering takeout and recently added a limited delivery service. But with campus closed and dine-in service temporarily prohibited, their business has dropped. The owners have not yet decided what steps to take. We are in dialog with them and will help them consider every option.

This news may prompt Williams staff to ask about your own job security. In my announcements I have said all college employees would receive full pay and benefits during the semester closure, regardless of whether you are able to work remotely. We are upholding that commitment, and I promise to communicate frequently as the situation evolves.

Here are a few related updates in response to other questions I have received. First, any student who is remaining on campus and is on a meal plan will get brunch/lunch and dinner in Driscoll. For the 69 of those students who are on the 21-meal plan, we are also crediting back the breakfast portion ($380 per student), which will provide them with funds they can use to buy food from and support local businesses.

Second, the college has waived April rent for all retail establishments that lease space in Williams-owned properties on Spring Street. The pandemic is disrupting the retail and service economy nationwide, particularly in small towns, and this was a step we could take to help local merchants whom we value as neighbors and friends.

Another step for the community was our decision, announced earlier today, to donate $50,000 to the new COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County. The Fund, co-led by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Berkshire United Way, has already raised $600,000 in flexible funds for 501c3 organizations working with Berkshire communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and its economic consequences.

Finally, some of you have noticed that the construction crews are continuing to work on the Science Center and Fort Hoosac projects. We allowed them to continue only after Rita Coppola-Wallace and her team carefully reviewed the general contractors’ public health protocols. We will continue working with the contractors to monitor both sites closely, and Williams always reserves the right to stop work if concerns arise.

The pandemic and economic downturn are causing a great deal of upheaval for the region, country, and globe. Williams and all of us are trying to navigate these challenges quickly and effectively, while also demonstrating appreciation and sensitivity for the complex needs of our community. I ask for your ongoing engagement in these efforts, so that Williams, and Williamstown, and all of us can work through the crisis together.