Smith College to Build World-Class Environmental Classroom at Field Station in Whately
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College recently received a major three-year grant to develop an environmental education and research facility on the college’s satellite property, the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station.
The award from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation will fund the design and construction of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, a 2,300-square-foot center, and will support student internships. Site preparation will begin this academic year and construction in late 2011.
The college’s 200-acre field station is located fewer than 12 miles from campus in the rural town of Whately, first settled in the 1600s. Smith purchased the tract in the 1970s as an observatory site for the astronomy department and officially dedicated the property for field study in May 2008.
“While the MacLeish Field Station occupies only a small corner of the world in western Massachusetts, it has the potential for widespread positive influence,” said Andrew Guswa, director of Smith’s Center of the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS) and associate professor of engineering.
“The Bechtel Environmental Classroom will make the MacLeish Field Station accessible for Smith students and local school and community groups.”
The Bechtel Environmental Classroom will be designed as a sustainable structure that complements the surrounding landscape, according to Guswa. Smith students will be involved in the project from the very beginning as part of the design of the building and landscape.
The building will feature flexible classroom space to accommodate as many as 30 students and an instructor, as well as a screened porch for lectures, educational programming and community events.
Internships provided for by the grant will involve students in the development of a student-led docent program and the design of a new parking lot, bus turnaround and signage.
Also planned for the site is the design and installation of a solar array to provide electricity for the existing environmental monitoring equipment on site, as well as electrical fencing surrounding the pastures. The college licenses some 20 acres of land to area farmers for their use.
Additional student participation will involve scholars within the landscape design, architecture and engineering programs in developing the site with an emphasis on native plantings within the historic landscape.
Guswa noted that the site connects Smith students from around the world to the local environment during their formative college years, a sentiment that was expressed by Alexandra Webster, a member of the Class of 2008, during the field station dedication.
“Tromping through the underbrush, taking notes under the shelter of a tree in a rainstorm, looking up from my measurements to see a bear wandering among the trees – this is how to learn, not just about ecology but about your place in the world,” Webster noted at the time.
About the property
Historic stonewalls line the road to the field station, which is made up of forests, fields and streams. Notably, the property is just to the east of the primary reservoir that supplies drinking water to the City of Northampton.
In the mid-19th century, the property was home to hundreds of sheep, two homesteads, an ice pond and several barns. Lead and zinc mines on the western half of the site were active in the early 20th century and much of the eastern part of the site remained open for agricultural use and pasture land through the 1950s.
The property’s history includes active forest management that has led to a mix of New England forest types, from sugar maples to old-growth hemlock, birch and beech stands.
Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.