We have carried a different community energy this year, an energy that is still positive, still Proctor, but different. We carry the loss of Dave Pilla from the summer. We miss his cheer, his laughter, his grace, and his generosity, his constant search for the perfect cup of coffee and his constant reminder of wilderness solace and solutions. Many of us think about the way he held his depression so close, hiding it from so many. The Woodlands Office has been quieter this year, the woodstove cold for much of the winter. Next door, the Wilson Building sits empty and unused; it carries a heavy energy.
The Wilson Building. For many alums who took a class in that space, who walked up the stairs and into the Dave Pilla sanctuary, the building brings back positive memories. Memories of a man and the way he brought the land and all of its wonders so close, when the taxidermied wildlife seemed like it might pounce into the middle of a discussion, and the gnawed beaver sticks propped against the wall shared space with the cherished wooden baseball bats. We haven’t wanted to remove the building too quickly, partly because of all those positive memories, but enough time has passed.
We have made the decision that the Wilson Building needs to come down. Its energy is too freighted with Dave’s death. It is a place where we no longer think it appropriate to hold classes, and it does not honor the legacy that we believe Dave gifted to his students and this community. The Wilson Building will come down in March, and in its place there will be a quiet place for reflection, some kind of planting - a tree to grow up thick and strong, perhaps a bench for those who want to come and sit in its shade. It will be open space, clear space.
Across the way, we will build a new structure that will, we think, better honor Dave Pilla, Bob Wilson, and their combined legacy and ethos of environmental stewardship. The start of this project has already begun. We have discussed possibilities for the structure, how to engage students and the community in the project, begun exploring whether we can harvest some of our own trees for framing, and have contemplated an old-fashioned barn raising. There are thoughts about an attached greenhouse for classes, a wet and dry lab, a place where not only field based science classes might call home, but perhaps a wilderness literature class. We want to widen the gateway into the natural world, and this new building will help us do that. It will help us carry the Dave Pilla energy forward.
It is time to bring the Wilson Building down, and it is time to lean into this new project. The Board of Trustees have approved the release of funds designated for this project - we have enough to get started with design work - and we will start molding the varying ideas people have for this new building into a concrete design. If all goes well, the project will be completed by Spring of 2020.
We know there is much wisdom within this community as we enter a project like this, and encourage you to engage with us as we move forward. If you are interested in receiving periodic updates on this project and being an involved participant, please let us know.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School
History of the Wilson Building
Prior to Rulon-Miller Dormitory opening its doors in August 1985, the adjacent barn of Gracia Snyder’s former residence was moved across campus on rollers to its new home behind Mary Lowell Stone House and Gulick House. Remodeled with a first floor wet lab and a second floor classroom, the rough framed structure was newly christened as the Robert Wilson Natural Resources Building in honor of long-time faculty member Bob Wilson who was a remarkable steward of Proctor’s woodlands during his 25 years teaching at Proctor. The Wilson Building became home to Proctor’s budding wildlife science and forestry classes under forester and teacher David Pilla. For hundreds of Proctor students over the past 30 years, this building sat at the heart of their forestry and wildlife science experiences.
Future Vision for Woodlands and Wildlife Education at Proctor
An active group of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the Board of Trustees have begun planning and brainstorming for a future building to serve as a gateway to the Proctor woodlands. The preliminary thoughts around this new building include both wet lab and dry lab classroom space, as well as classroom space to house courses from other departments desiring to connect with the outdoors and an attached greenhouse.This space, and a community based construction process, seeks to honor David Pilla, Bob Wilson, and all those who have shaped Proctor’s commitment to environmental stewardship. If you are interested in sharing in the brainstorming process for this new building, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.