Clark, NBHS, Outline Land-Use Plan, Public Programs for Proposed Clark Facility on Route 7

For Immediate Release

July 08, 2003

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and Northern Berkshire Health Systems (NBHS) today outlined a land stewardship and land-use plan for the Clark's proposed facility along Route 7 in Williamstown. NBHS and the Clark provided information about the project under consideration. Mark Piechota, superintendent of schools for the Mount Greylock Regional School District, also discussed the potential for program partnerships. Thomas Branchick, director of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), spoke about WACC's public role at the facility. The site under consideration would be the important first phase of the Institute's overall building expansion and enhancement of its current campus on South Street at Stone Hill.

The new site, known to local residents as "Phelp's Knoll," would be maintained as a public park and would provide access to extraordinary views of Mount Greylock. The participants discussed the proposed program for the site, located between Sweetwood Continuing Care Retirement Community and Mount Greylock Regional High School, in anticipation of a purchase and sale agreement in negotiation between the Clark and the land's current owners, Northern Berkshire Health Systems, operators of Sweetwood. Architectural designs for the proposed $15 million facility are expected to be unveiled next week. If a purchase and sale agreement is completed later this summer, the Institute would break ground on the project in March 2004, to be opened to the public in 2006.
The Clark plans to maintain the grounds as a public park, preserving the land for outdoor recreational use as well as providing scenic viewing points for the vista over the rolling hills and meadows known locally as "the Hopper" to Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts. The uppermost point of Phelp's Knoll would be maintained as a picnic and viewing area, with the building tucked behind the knoll, unobtrusive to the eye from Route 7. The western side of the site would remain virtually untouched, preserving the mature woodlands there.

"We are excited about the prospect of extending the Clark's long tradition of landscape stewardship to this beautiful, natural site overlooking the Hopper and Mount Greylock," said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. "With the 140 acres of woods, meadows, and trails on our current campus that we are anxious to preserve for the community, we would only consider becoming involved in a new site if it would extend our role as stewards of the land and is as special as our site here on South Street. We look forward to making Phelp's Knoll available for public viewing and recreational use."

The site would also remain open for hiking, running, and skiing, with many existing trails to remain and some portions of the trail to be rerouted. Institute officials have met with cross-country skiing and running coaches at Mount Greylock Regional High School and Williams College to discuss the best approaches to the trail system used by both institutions as well as private individuals.

In addition to the use of the site for sports, the Clark and Mount Greylock Regional High School are considering collaboration on a number of educational programs afforded by the facility's proximity to the school. Among the many programs in discussion are internships at both the Clark and WACC, the eminent conservation lab to be housed at the new facility, available for Mount Greylock students. Planned exhibition space could be devoted to student use four to six weeks every winter. A studio art classroom might be used by MGRHS for "life drawing" classes, and a meeting room would be available for the school's use (as well as the Clark and members of the community). More joint programs could be added as the project moves forward.

"We look forward very much to being a good neighbor to the high school," said Francis Oakley, president of the Clark Art Institute. "The school will of course have continued access to the site and we hope to work with them on additional partnerships that will enable them, during this fiscally challenging time, to benefit from the Clark's educational resources."

"I am intrigued by the possibilities that would present themselves if we had the Clark as a neighbor," said Piechota. "Internships, student exhibitions, and other programs have great potential to benefit our students, as well as the larger community."

The building would also have programs and resources available to members of the community and to the many tourists to the area. Public amenities proposed include exhibition galleries, publicly accessible art storage, a café, and visitor center. In addition to providing the necessary space and operations for the conservation lab, the facility would give visitors the opportunity to view conservators at work, something that is not possible at the current site. Gallery space could also be used to exhibit works of art that have undergone conservation at WACC.

"While we are thrilled with the prospect of the much-needed new work space, we are perhaps most excited about the possibilities for sharing our work with the public in a way that we are not able to do at our current facility," said Thomas Branchick, director of WACC. WACC is currently located in a service building on the Clark's campus, which will be removed as part of the Institute's campus enhancement.
Pedestrian paths would link both Sweetwood and the high school to the new facilities. The possibility of cross-generational learning programs is also being explored.

"Sweetwood residents are among our most loyal supporters, and take advantage of the many public programs we offer year-round at our main campus," said Conforti. "We anticipate that their experience of the Clark will be enhanced even more by the possibilities of bringing Clark programs and resources right next door."

NBHS has future plans to develop independent living units at Phelp's Knoll. The Clark's involvement at the site would preserve the street side portion of the knoll while providing infrastructure that would facilitate Sweetwood's eventual development nearby. Testing is currently taking place on the site of the proposed facility in order to determine the feasibility of the building and the location of water sources, which would supply water for the future development at Sweetwood as well as the facility itself.

 "This concept offers the opportunity for three public institutions to collaborate in ways we have never attempted before," said John C. J. Cronin, chief executive officer of NBHS.  "As the NBHS Board of Trustees considers the potential for this partnership -- with an eye towards meeting the various health care, cultural, and educational needs of our community --great attention will be paid to protecting the land and using it in the best way possible."

 The Clark plans to announce a proposed building design next week and will host a community forum about the proposed site on July 23, at Mount Greylock Regional High School.

"The Clark is proud to function as a public institution, and we welcome the serious way in which the community is discussing our future plans," said Conforti. "We look forward to animated discussions as we move forward."

Conforti also noted that the site is located between the two largest structures in Williamstown, making the new development an expression of the principles of the Williamstown Master Plan.

"If you examine the principles of the open space plan as outlined in the December 2002 report, this project is consistent with the plan's goals. In proposing a building between two of the largest in town, we are in keeping with the notion of growth in areas of existing development."

The project is the first phase in the Institute's overall plan for expansion and campus enhancement. The new site will clear the way for the removal of WACC's existing facility, which is the future site of the Visitor, Graduate, and Conference Center and one-and-a-half acre reflecting pool designed by Tadao Ando. Most of the 95,000 square foot addition, which will include new special exhibition galleries, visitor amenities, and space for the Clark's seminal Research and Academic Program, will be under ground. Improvements to the Institute's 1955 white marble permanent collection building will include new galleries for American art. Landscape enhancements are also planned.

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