Neighbors, Conservationists, Seek Dialogue With University On Proposed Pavilion At Renaissance Center

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

A group of about 20 Amherst residents met via Zoom on January 23 to discuss concerns about the UMass plan to build a pavilion adjacent to the Arthur F. Kinney Renaissance Center to honor the university’s front line service workers who worked during the pandemic. The group included abutters, local conservationists, and friends of Janet Dakin, who donated the property on which the Renaissance Center is located.

Following the meeting, Robin Jaffin, who was the first to publicly raise concerns about the project and who organized the meeting, sent an email to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and UMass Executive Director of Community and Strategic Initiatives Tony Maroulis on behalf of concerned Amherst residents, requesting a walk-through of the proposed building site for members of the public, as well as a question and answer session on Zoom to directly respond to the many questions that have been raised about the project. 

Jaffin wrote, “This property and the historical public access to it means that the community at large has a deep and meaningful connection to it — which we are hoping the University will respect through communicating more transparently and with more sensitivity to the impact of the University’s decision to place this building here.  We would appreciate this happening prior to any ground breaking or land clearing occurs. “

As of Friday, January 27, Jaffin had not heard back from the University. Jaffin had originally posted concerns about the project in a letter published in the Indy, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin. Maoulis responded on behalf of the University without addressing any of the concerns raised by Jaffin, and concluded:

  “As you note, the fields of the Renaissance Center are a beloved space for those both within and beyond our university. The pavilion will both conserve the existing garden and add new, fully ADA-compliant space designed to be in harmony with both the current use of the space and its surroundings. We look forward to sharing this space, and our deep appreciation for the work of our employees, with the community when the UMass Service Workers Honor Pavilion opens later this year.”

The project will be funded by a $7 million gift from an anonymous donor. The architect, Sigrid Miller Pollin, will also donate her services. She has previously designed two other buildings on campus, Gordon Hall and Crotty Hall.

The University’s press release on the project stated: “The open-air facility will be a valuable community asset, open for quiet contemplation as well as gatherings. The pavilion is being designed by architect Sigrid Miller Pollin, FAIA, a UMass professor emerita, who is donating her time and expertise. Construction will begin soon with the facility expected to be completed by next summer.”

The chancellor noted that” the anonymous donor was inspired by the front-line service provided by the approximately 1,400 UMass employees who cook and serve food on campus, clean and maintain buildings, operate campus stores, and more generally deliver, day in and day out, a flourishing teaching, research and learning environment.”

UMass Staff Association (USA) President Leslie Masland noted in a letter to Maroulis that her union was never contacted about the pavilion or about plans to honor front-line workers and that many of her members were unsuccessful in their efforts to claim COVID hazard pay.

Jaffin, in her first letter to the chancellor, raised numerous concerns about the project including:

  • Service workers were not consulted on a project meant to honor them and the site is not convenient for the workers it is meant to honor. The $7 million project appears to be an ironic honor given the fiscal struggles currently faced by many of the campus’ front line workers.
  • The construction of the pavilion and a parking lot to serve it will adversely modify the now unencumbered view of the western hills leading down into the agricultural fields. The property currently protects one of the largest remaining open green spaces in Amherst. Possible removal of trees and vegetation is a concern.
  • The remote location and open design will make it a magnet for vandalism.
  • The university has a responsibility to the public to be transparent about large gifts that it receives and conditions specified by them. In the case of the pavilion it is not clear whether the primary intent is to build this particular structure or to honor service workers. The conditions of the gift need to be made public. 

It is unclear as to the permitting process requirements that the University would need to go through with the town. There is currently no building permit for the project  on record.

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3 thoughts on “Neighbors, Conservationists, Seek Dialogue With University On Proposed Pavilion At Renaissance Center

  1. A Public University must be transparent about the receipt of donations and any conditions attached to the use of these funds. It is disturbing that a pavilion planned to honor any group of people be beyond access for many of the honorees. Also, how will such a structure affect present use by the Kinney Center and the community use of the fields? A clearer explanation of the plan is in order.

  2. To me, the primary issue of concern here is that the articulated intent of this planned project, to honor the 1400 UMass frontline service workers, will in no way be achieved by the construction of this project. The money, location and design plan for this facility does nothing to improve the workers lives or work place situations. $7 million could go a long way to improve work conditions on campus either collectively or for individuals.

    What is the point?!

    Not to mention other issues:
    the removal of much enjoyed, shared community green space
    the design of the pavilion looks like a hollowed out trailer home and will require maintenance
    creates and eyesore, disrupts the pristine nature of the space
    poor planning and community involvement in the process

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