Supporting WMA: The Athenaeum

(Updated Nov. 2, 2021 from original story in Spring 2020 Academy World)

Perfect timing and fit for new Athenaeum

By Brian P. Easler
Head of School

On time and under budget. Those two phrases are not often used to describe  a construction project, but that is exactly how things went for us with the new Griffin Athenaeum. Due to the superb work by our WMA Facilities Steering  Committee and our construction management team, the Griffin Athenaeum was finished right on schedule and comfortably under budget.

Satisfying several of the Campus Master Plan objectives — primarily the need for intentional community space, academic collaborative space and the beginning of a campus reorganization — the Griffin Athenaeum will have a dramatic and positive effect on daily life at WMA. 

The new building is centered around the S. Prestley & Helen Davis Blake Reading Room, which is the largest room in the layout. The Blake Reading Room is intentionally social in nature, where patrons will not be shushed for having reasonable and relevant conversations with each other in a comfortable and relaxed environment. The Study Room,  on the other hand, is decidedly quiet and serious, where you can expect to be shushed, with predominantly more traditional library-style tables and lamps, and is glassed in to provide both quiet and supervision from the circulation desk in the Blake Reading Room. Both of these rooms, which dominate the front of the floorplan, benefit from the majestic view of the WMA landscape from Rich Hall to “up the hill.” 

Behind these two primary rooms are three private study rooms, also separated by glass, that students and faculty may sign up for to study as groups or work on projects. One of the rooms will accommodate 12 or so students with a conference table, and the other two will accommodate 6–8 students. All three of these private study rooms have a glass whiteboard and a large screen TV with relevant AV connections for use by those utilizing the rooms.

Aside from a well-appointed office next to the circulation  and workstation area, there is a large workroom with plenty of storage for our Library Services staff to use for their own work and for working with students on projects.

Since we decided to connect the Griffin Athenaeum to the existing Gill Memorial Library now instead of waiting for the next construction phase, the large joining lobby will be a short-term study resource as well. What will eventually function as a  walk-through lobby is fitted for now with an additional table  and seating arrangement, matching the rest of the decor, for  use as an additional student study and collaboration space. 

All of these lovely indoor spaces are wrapped on the north side by a raised, stone terrace which complements the new Rich Hall Portico in its design and intent. Students have been so responsive to the social atmosphere created with the Adirondack chairs on the Rich Portico that we decided to replicate that  social, outdoor space on the Griffin Athenaeum. The views of the campus from this raised vantage are simply stunning.

The whole building was designed to make the indoors and the outdoors of the campus seem to be seamlessly joined, and the success of that intent is never more evident than at night when it feels, from inside or outside the building, as though there is no glass at all. On a campus where the facades of historic buildings are dominated by brick and stone and very few windows, this new space, shrouded in the same brick and stone, provides a window, literally and metaphorically, into and out of the heart of the school.

Finally, and as you will recall, the Griffin Athenaeum represents the first step and the key that will unlock the rest of the Campus Master Plan. Before we could continue with the construction of  a new kitchen and serving area and the renovation of the Chapel into a dining room (and the renovation of the current Dining Hall into a modular auditorium), we needed to replace the existing library. With this project, we have done one better . . . by building a new library that will also utilize the existing library space to great advantage. And, since the Griffin Athenaeum is fully funded by the generous support of our alumni, families and friends . . . we’re ready to head full steam into fundraising for the dining hall project. That project, once funded and completed, will be truly transformational to the Wilbraham & Monson Academy experience and the life of our beautiful campus.