The late Dagmar Bubriski's 42 Hoxsey St. home will be razed to make way for the new building unless someone comes forward to move it. The Bronfman Science Center can be seen behind it.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Meet the new Bronfman. Same as the old Bronfman.
That was the message to the Zoning Board of Appeals when Williams College presented final plans for the north building of the college's new science center on Hoxsey Street.
With the south building nearly complete, the college last week obtained final approval from the town for changes to its permit for the north building, which will replace the current Bronfman Science Center, where demolition is set to occur this summer.
Two years ago, the ZBA approved a plan that envisioned a white stone edifice with a peaked roof for the new north building. On Thursday, Williams' general counsel and executive director of design and construction were back at Town Hall with modifications to the college's site plan.
The most noticeable change to the project over the last couple of years is aesthetic. Instead of the stone edifice originally conceived, the college has decided for a brick building largely reminiscent of the current structure — from the outside, at least.
ZBA Chairman Andrew Hoar told the college's reps he was surprised by the changes.
"I'm kind of disappointed — I am disappointed," Hoar said. "We know when we were here before it was a proposed structure. We had testimony from the neighbors, who aren't here tonight. We took testimony on the design of the building on the pitched roof. We talked about sunlight and shadow issues and making sure the neighbors were getting sun.
"We saw a building that was reminiscent of some of the early architecture on campus. … We took quite a bit of testimony based on that design and how it impacted the neighborhood. That's the Zoning Board is all about, in my view: looking at what a large entity wants to do and how it impacts the smaller people around it."
Williams counsel Jamie Art told the ZBA that the college has been in conversation with its neighbors over the last two years about the design change.
"This design is not a surprise to them as it might be other members of the public," Art said. "They have seen it.
"I think it's a testimony to that outreach, particularly by [Executive Director of Design and Construction Rita Coppola-Wallace] and her team, how engaged they are with neighbors continually in that process, that there aren't neighbors here today to express concern."
In fact, the lone resident who spoke from the floor at Thursday's public hearing was on record in support of the college's proposal for the site. And Town Planner Andrew Groff told the ZBA that three residents had visited his office and told him they felt the process with the college was productive.
The ZBA did not attempt to get into the business of being the town's "aesthetics police," but Hoar noted that the project ultimately approved by a 4-0 vote on Thursday was vastly different from the one the body considered during multiple hearings in 2016.
"You're not alone in feeling some regret that the original design is not the final design," Art said. "Personally, I loved the first design. And, I, personally, think this is also a nice design, and it's a fresher Bronfman. It's clearly reminiscent of Bronfman. It responds to the brick in the quad, the brick in the Greylock quad. It's not a markedly different architectural statement in the quad."
In the end, what matters to the psychology, math and geoscience departments that will occupy the north building is what is inside. And the new building — like the 2016 design — will offer the interior flexibility that the 1968 Bronfman Science Center lacks.
Coppola-Wallace, who, like Art, said she liked the 2016 design, explained why the college's Design Review Committee went in a different direction.
"It was so different," she said of the 2016 proposal. "I tend to like the change and difference. It was so different from what is here, Bronfman. Human nature is people sometimes don't like change.
"While it was a building that I personally thought fit nicely into the quad, others did not. Bronfman is a building that sits quietly in the quad and doesn't scream, 'Look at me! I'm 90,000 square feet!' … The other design wouldn't do that. It would say, 'See me.' And that's not what the Design Committee thought this should be."
Because of the switch to a flat roof, like the current academic building on Hoxsey Street, the new north building will have a lower profile than the one planned in 2016. Instead of an average height of 58 feet, 8 inches with the peaked roofs, the new incarnation measures 49 feet, 4 inches at the roof line, an increase of about 2 feet from the current Bronfman.
The 2016 special permit granted the college relief from the town's bylaw requiring a maximum of 35 feet for new construction. It also granted relief from a bylaw requirement limiting development to 20 percent coverage of lot; the entire project — south and north buildings included — now covers 25.89 percent of the applicable lot, Art told the ZBA, slightly less than 26.04 percent the board permitted two years ago.
One element of the special permit the ZBA granted in 2016 no longer applies. Back then, the college needed permission to continue a "pre-existing nonconformity," since the existing Bronfman Science Center is 3 feet closer to its nearest neighbor than the bylaw allows. In spring 2017 the college has acquired the neighboring property, 42 Hoxsey St.
"If anyone is interested in the [2,900-square foot] house, it's free," Art said. "You just have to take it from the site. There will be a hearing with the [town's] Historical Commission on what the timing of the removal is."
Civil engineer Sandra Brock of Nitsch Engineering told the ZBA that the acquisition of the land to the south of the current Bronfman Science Center makes the drainage plan for the new north building easier.
"With the addition of 42 Hoxsey St., there's more breathing room," Brock said. "There's a little more green space next to the building. Before, it was very close to the property line, and there was a drop in grade from where the science center was down to 42 Hoxsey St. From my perspective, we now have more room to organize utilities.
"We're not changing the design dramatically. … The biggest increase was in green space, landscaping."
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