Letter: New UMass Pavillion A Flawed Undertaking

Architect's rendering of the proposed pavilion at UMass intended to honor service workers. Photo: umass.edu

While I was walking with my dog around the property and trails that surround the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies building, I noticed a Bobcat tractor ripping out the perennial beds behind the former Dakin home. I also noticed stakes with orange ribbon in the field behind the house. I did a bit of research and found the link to the notice from the University about the Service Workers Pavilion.

Somehow, I had missed where this 7 million dollar “gift” was to be located when I first saw this article in November. I do recall thinking when I read the article title the first time, why don’t they just pay the service workers the bonuses they should have been paid for working through COVID and beyond, rather than building an unnecessary and frivolous building? Certainly, each of them would have valued the $5000 share more than some esoteric honor that they would get far less value from.

Did they run this by the service workers union? Do the service workers want this “pavilion” so they can be “contemplative” and “hold family gatherings”? And if the answer was yes to those questions, why was the pavillion not built somewhere central and accessible on campus since it is meant to signal that these workers are being honored.

Instead, the pavilion is being erected in a location that the university owns but is absolutely not central to anything students, faculty, or staff would normally access let alone see. It is planned to be placed on a piece of property that was gifted to the university and has been maintained as we can be sure the Dakin’s intended it to be – as open space – with an unencumbered view of the western hills leading down into the agricultural fields, protecting one of the largest remaining open green spaces in Amherst. Even though the buildings themselves are not entitled to historical protection they and the property remain significant historically to many of us in Amherst.

The proposed pavilion will supposedly sit in a spot on the property to the southwest of the house. The article says it is meant to be accessible to the community for contemplation and gathering. From where I sit the property already provides those opportunities without adding a building that now will require maintenance and the destruction of the woods to provide additional parking. The closest bus stop is ¼ of a mile away and there are no sidewalks leading to the property. And while we do need more parking in Amherst, this is not what we meant.

And speaking of maintenance… anyone who lives here knows that the proposed open design of this building will become a repository for leaves, mud, graffiti and gravel and possibly worse. The intended white airy structure will quickly erode into an eyesore. An open building of this design will provide opportunities for gatherings… but most likely encourage teenagers and our unhoused population to seek cover here more frequently than the intended audience ever will. And as the proposed building is not viewable from the road or even from neighboring buildings one can only imagine how quickly this will become an added responsibility for the UMASS police to monitor.

Am I the only one who sees this as a vanity project that does not provide any benefit to the service workers, the community, the neighboring homes, the natural environment nor the wildlife in that area? I can see that others have raised these concerns on Reddit  including this comment:

“This makes me sick to my stomach. UMass admins won’t give me my covid hazard pay, even though I more than qualified for it. But aww….here’s a nice pavilion in “honor” of you because clearly you stay on campus after your shift is done. /s

Do you not know how many hours I worked last school year because they didn’t want to hire new people?! I am appalled by this.

As a food service worker, this is a GIANT slap in the face. I’m so pissed at this. Wtaf UMass.

I need a raise, not a pavilion. I need a new car and I have rent to pay.”

I would love to hear from anyone who is a service worker at UMASS to know if this feels appropriate to you as a form of honoring your efforts? Is it too late to petition the university to reconsider how they spend this money and where?

Robin Jaffin

Robin Jaffin is a resident of Amherst

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12 thoughts on “Letter: New UMass Pavillion A Flawed Undertaking

  1. Dear Robin,
    Thank you for this. With so much “crazy” going on around us, it is difficult to keep up with that of our ever imposing “neighbor”, UMass, Amherst. Each and every aspect of this project defies understanding, and disrespects those it purports to honor and the public at large. Vanity, thy name is bureaucracy.

  2. Longtime land conservationists Janet and Toby Dakin must be rolling in their graves!

    Does this project comport with the letter and the spirit of their generous gift to the University?

    And have abutters been notified of this project?

    Something rotten in the state….

  3. Thank you so much Robin for this considerate and thoughtful piece. It definitely hits a nerve.

    When reading about this plan a few weeks back, my initial reaction was disappointment. The building design came across as an administrator’s afterthought. Almost an insult. How does such a building show respect and honor for the millions of labor hours served by thousands upon thousands of underserved underpaid workers throughout the University’s history? Why not put it in the center of campus? : – )) Wonder if any workers were asked for their feedback on this project? If not, why not?

    Maybe contact union leaders at UMass (https://www.umass.edu/lrrc/) to learn more. Also a reach out to the University’s Partnership for Worker Education (https://www.umass.edu/worker-ed/). They have strong long term ties to UMASS labor.

    Thank you again.

  4. What a horrible waste of resources. As usual there is no understanding of the working man.. This article was very well written.

  5. Can you print this on the OPINION page of the Gazette, as well as the UMASS
    campus newspaper?
    It is so well thought out and written – i’d love it to have a wider readership.

  6. Well reasoned! I second the idea of contacting UMass union leaders and the University’s Partnership for Worker Education re: the above objections.

  7. I would assume the donor of this money asked for it to be used in this way. Unfortunately, UMass may have had little say, but I get it.

    Jason Carlson

  8. I am an abutter, and I haven’t been notified – as a matter of fact, this is the first I’m hearing about it!
    Is it too late to prevent this horrible development on pristine land?

  9. The Amherst planning department does not yet have an application for a building permit, which is required on this parcel as it is zoned Farmland Conservation. Once UMass submits an application, abutters will likely be formally notified and a public hearing scheduled. It’s not too late to prevent this development. As others pointed out, parking is an issue and so is creating a large impermeable surface – that’s a lot of square feet of runoff during a large rain storm. How will that runoff be handled?

    Elena Zachary

  10. Thank you all for your comments and support on this topic. I have heard from many people so far – all of whom are equally concerned and unhappy about this planned project.

    To update you: This letter was published in the Gazette, the Bulletin and the Greenfield Recorder at the same time it appeared here. I also posted on the NextDoor App.

    I have written to the Chancellor with a cc to the unions that represent the staff and the food service and custodial workers, along with the campus planner. I will update if and when I receive a response.

    I spent an hour in Special Collections at the Jones Library yesterday reviewing all of the documentation that the Dakin family bequeathed to the library as it relates to this property. I have a copy of the land grant document dated May 14, 1990 where Janet Dakin grants the property (minus the house and immediately surrounding gardens, etc – which she must have left in her will after her death) outlines the parcels and an easement for accessing the septic system). I am looking for someone who has more expertise than I do to review it. But at first glance there are no restrictions on how the property is managed noted within this document. But there are references to other documents I do not currently have access to.

    I also reviewed Janet Dakin’s long history as a staunch conservationist and the honors and recognition she received for such efforts by the Mass Audubon Society, The Trustees of Reservations, The Kestrel Trust, The Amherst Conservation Committee and the Committee to Support Protection of the Holyoke Range.

    I took copies of photos of the property in earlier years, including the building of the home that now hosts the Center for Renaissance Studies.

    While we wait for a response from the University I would be interested in working with a small group of others who are interested in and capable of taking on certain tasks to build a reasonable and strong argument to put forth to see if we can stop this project from moving forward on this property. And to encourage more responsible use of the funds that will directly positively impact the lives of the service workers it is meant to honor.

    If anyone is interested please contact me at robin.jaffin@gmail.com and I will coordinate a zoom call for further discussion. Thank you all!

  11. Thank you so much for writing this letter, Robin! This is the first I’d heard about it. I am guessing that the person behind this is truly trying to show their appreciation for the hard workers at UMass, which seems so kind and generous. Unfortunately I’m not sure this is the best way of doing that and hope that other proposals could be suggested and considered before this happens.

  12. As an abutter to the land, I, too, have reservations about this facility being built near the Center for Renaissance Studies. As has been stated, the land there is already conducive to contemplation, and building a facility that could be used for events seems counter to that contemplative purpose. It also seems counter to the current zoning of the land (Farmland Conservation) and it being situated within a residential area. On a few occasions in past summers, weddings have been allowed on the land immediately in front of the Center: the noisy disturbance they created is evidence of how inappropriate this new facility would be.

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