Model of proposed site design for new Amherst Media building (in white) at the corner of Main and Gray. Photo: Hilda Greenbaum.

New plans for an Amherst Media building in the Emily Dickinson Historic District were unveiled to the public on Wednesday, July 24.

Following a unanimous vote by the Local Historic District Commission that the previous “Dutch Colonial” barn-like structure proposed for Amherst Media’s new home was inappropriate for the historic district, the ACTV Board went back to the drawing board.  After meeting with several architects proficient in historically-appropriate design, Amherst Media hired local architect William Gillen, who is also an abutter, to reconsider the site and redesign the building. The new plans were displayed at a reception on Wednesday at Amherst Media’s current headquarters at 400 Main Street. 

The new plan moves the building to the more eastern end of two lots owned by Amherst Media so that sight lines will not interfere with views of the William Fenno Pratt buildings, one of which is now The Amherst Womens’ Club and the other, which is a private residence. Water drainage issues that were initially thought to require use of the Gray Street corner lot for a containment cistern can now be handled more “upstream” on the western lot. Gillen also displayed a preliminary sketch of the Amherst Media facade, which will be subject to compliance with  Local Historic District Commission criteria. Amherst Media expects that the new designs will be ready for public hearings in the fall. 

While preparing plans for the Gray Street corner site, Amherst Media is continuing discussions with the Amherst Regional Public Schools about an alternate plan for space in the high school. The chair of the Amherst School Committee, Anastasia Ordonez, said she is very excited about the possibility of having ACTV at the school. Dee Shabazz, Amherst Media Board president, said that students are already using the facilities in their current building and those programs would continue on Gray Street. Shabazz raised many concerns about the high school site,  including the challenge of guaranteeing student safety and security with many visitors to the studio. Ordonez suggested that security challenges could be resolved with a separate lockable entrance to the media center.

Amherst Media Director Jim Lescault said that the costs of building out the high school would be comparable to building from scratch. Renovation of a public building would require compliance with the prevailing wage law, which is not otherwise required of a private non-profit entity.  

Disclosure: Hilda Greenbaum is a legal abutter to the proposed Amherst Media site.

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