When a prominent Northampton business recently hosted a retreat at the Smith College Conference Center, many of the attendees showed up late.

It’s not an unusual circumstance, says Addison MacDonald, Conference Center manager.

“We were seeing people slowing down, driving right past, asking for directions,” recalls MacDonald.  “We’ve hosted people from local government, and from other colleges and universities, and this happens basically every time.”

People unfamiliar with the Smith campus can navigate toward the Conference Center, on College Lane, simply enough. But identifying the building, which is unremarkable at its street side entrance, is another matter.

With renovations on the exterior and interior of the building beginning this week, an end may be in sight to the question frequently asked by off-campus visitors: “Is this the right place?”

The renovation project, which is scheduled to be in progress from December 16 through early April, 2014, will  modernize and spruce up the facility, bringing it up to par with other buildings on campus, says MacDonald.

To begin, the project will include complete demolition of the current lobby and a new design and rebuild from scratch, MacDonald explained, removing the concrete walls, installing larger windows, and lightening the space to better befit the role of the space as the first impression many guests have of Smith.

Architects and landscapers will collaborate with Botanic Garden personnel to beautify the building’s exterior landscape and improve its curb appeal. Among the new features will be ivy walls, pergolas, improved disability access, and additional plantings.  A new entry and awning will be constructed, along with new front steps, walks and planting beds.  Access to the front door will be more open and accessible.

“We’ve long been doing events for the college and the general public,” notes MacDonald. “We host weddings, fundraisers, retreats and conferences, and we want to make the building more welcoming and more conducive to these kinds of events.”

The Conference Center will be closed from December through March, 2014. College Lane will remain open during most of the construction project, MacDonald says, and Facilities Management will announce any partial closures in advance.

The building’s last transformation took place in 2010, when its use was converted from hosting the Smith College Club to serving as a conference center that could host a wider range of events, from academic conferences and workshops to larger social events.

“It’s really nice to see this being addressed,” says MacDonald, who joined Smith in 2010 as Conference Center manager. “The college has had success in bringing people to campus—prominent people from outside our immediate community, as well as accomplished alumnae—so it’s great to see this building get a shot in the arm.”