Update on Community Matters

To the Williams Community,

Williams’ engagement with the local community has been an expanding focus of college attention as the needs and opportunities in the region have grown. So much is happening on those fronts that I thought you might welcome an update. I’ll break these developments into categories.

Spring Street

Three projects aimed at enlivening Williamstown’s commercial district are in different degrees of development. Each of these is worthwhile, and together they stand to have a very positive impact on a central part of our community.

As you may know, work begins this spring on renewing the Log. We’ve raised capital gifts to bring the building up to code, make it way more energy efficient, improve the interior flow of its rooms, and make what’s going on inside more visible from the outside. The plan is to add to the building’s current uses—like our wonderful Log Lunches—the kind of food, beverage, and entertainment offerings that could draw together college and community.

At the same time, in consultation with the Bookstore Committee, we’re in conversation with several—and several types of—booksellers, with an eye toward opening a college bookstore on Spring Street. We’re in the process of choosing an operator, with whom we’d then work toward a design and location.

Finally, as you know, we’ve been exploring for some time the possibility of establishing an inn near the bottom of Spring Street, which would eventually take the place of the existing Williams Inn. The concept would be for a smaller inn, of about 60 rooms, with a large function room and a small- to medium-sized restaurant and an average room rate in line with that of The Porches and The Orchards. It should be a place where visitors (including college job candidates, speakers, etc.) would like to stay and where those of us who live here would like to host events.

The architectural design firm Cambridge Seven Associates, working with local environmental engineers, have suggested that the best location would be behind what we all still call the American Legion Building (though the Legion has moved out), where facilities’ storage barns current are.  An inn located there could significantly enhance that end of the street, and the project could turn the area around Christmas Brook into a public amenity.

We’ve been talking through these ideas with individuals, including neighbors of the proposed location, and relevant college committees, and we’ve begun more formal conversations with town permitting bodies.

The inn wouldn’t be part of a chain, and the college wouldn’t manage it, just as we don’t manage the current inn.  The inn’s construction and operation would be kept completely separate from the college’s operating budget. There’s a range of ways that the project feasibly could be financed, one of which would be to include it in the real estate portfolio of our endowment. The endowment currently includes approximately $100 million invested in properties around the country, and it might be appropriate to allocate a portion of that investment to a project in Williamstown that is expected to have a comparable return.

Once it’s clear that this project is going ahead, we’ll need to think of the best use for the current inn property.

We’ll keep you updated on this project as more details become available and as it moves through the local permitting process.

Health Care

We continue in conversation with the government and nonprofit entities working toward evolution of the system of delivering health care in our community. Many operations have returned to what’s now Berkshire Medical Center’s  Northern Berkshire Campus. It’s being determined what more can be returned in ways that would be financially feasible and medically safe.

Roughly half of our neighbors who lost their jobs with the closing of North Adams Regional have been hired by Berkshire Health Systems or Southwestern Vermont Health Care. That still leaves many affected.

Meanwhile the system that the college devised with the Village Ambulance Service to transport our students to and from non-emergency medical and dental appointments has been working well and is providing a new, reliable revenue stream for this local nonprofit.

Mount Greylock Regional School

Over this academic year we’ll be working with the Mount Greylock Regional School District and with state officials to determine the right level and kind of financial involvement by the college with the project to address the school building’s many deficiencies. A study is under way to identify the best options, one of which will be put to a vote in both Lanesborough and Williamstown. It’s a relief, and a testament to the hard work of many at the school and in the community, that the process has gotten to this point.

Affordable Housing

If you don’t have occasion to travel past the bottom of Southworth Street, you may not know that construction has begun on college land of the Highland Woods affordable housing project. This is welcome news for all in the community, especially those who may still be living in the Spruces, which is mandated to close early in 2016. Weather permitting, the 40-unit Highland Woods should be open by then.

The health of the college is interwoven in many ways with the health of our local community. The projects mentioned here represent only part of the college’s increasing involvement in the region, and we’re grateful for the important roles many faculty, staff, and students play in all of this work.


Adam Falk