AMHERST — A pavilion to recognize University of Massachusetts service workers appears to be heading to the Orchard Hill portion of campus.
The pavilion, originally planned on the grounds of the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies at 650 East Pleasant St., drew the ire of some members of the public who felt that it would impede the public’s enjoyment of the woods and meadows at that location.
During a recent community meeting focused on implementing aspects of the 2012 Campus Master Plan, UMass planners outlined several upcoming capital projects, including the pavilion, as well as the Computer Sciences Laboratories Building and the Sustainable Engineering Laboratories Building, both at the heart of the campus, and the renovation and expansion of Totman, a building near the corner of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane that houses the School of Public Health & Health Sciences.
UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the latest plans are for the pavilion to go up on land east of Prexy’s Ridge, with completion of the facility anticipated for spring 2024.
“Plans call for the project to include an approximately 1,600-square-foot pavilion with a trellis-covered, 620-square-foot deck on its northern edge and a 620-square-foot stone patio on the southern side,” Blaguszewski said. “Stairs on the northern side will double as access from the lower portion of the immediate site as well as a small amphitheater. Two stainless steel plant-themed gates and a screen will be featured at the southern entry and act as a backdrop for southern-facing events.”
Toilet facilities will also be included.
The Orchard Hill area of campus has four, seven-story residence halls surrounding a central grassy area known as “The Bowl.” There also parking lots and the water towers along East Pleasant Street.
“The university chose the Orchard Hill site for the project because officials believe it is the best setting for its purpose,” Blaguszewski said. “There are currently no plans to develop anything at the UMass Renaissance Center site.”
But the pavilion, being designed by Sigrid Miller Pollin, a professor in the Department of Architecture, has remained a focal point for concerned residents as the project uses a $7 million anonymous donation.
Robin Jaffin, an Amherst resident who spearheaded efforts to keep the pavilion from going into the Dakin Meadow at the Renaissance Center, participated in the community meeting, which follows the requirements of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and provided information for what is called a Consolidated Project Commencement Notification, a listening session and an opportunity for public comment and meeting the needs of environmental justice communities.
How much buy-in from the public the pavilion, and the other projects, will get is uncertain.
The Computer Sciences Laboratories is to be a 94,300-square-foot, four-story building to be completed in spring 2025. The Sustainable Engineering Laboratories Building is to be a 78,000-square-foot structure to be completed in summer 2026. Totman will add a 35,000-square-foot addition that will take up some of the parking lot along North Pleasant Street and renovate the other portions into the Student Success Hub for the School of Public Health & Health Sciences.
In an email message Jaffin sent to those who joined her in opposing the earlier plan, people have 30 days to submit questions about the environmental impact of all projects. Jaffin is asking questions about more than just the pavilion.
“This should include, in my mind, how these additional buildings will impact enrollment on campus,” Jaffin wrote. “If more students are coming to campus, where are they living? How does this impact our town resources, such as water, sewer, electricity, waste, etc. — environmental impact has larger borders our boundaries than I think are being discussed here.”
Tony Maroulis, executive director of Community + Strategic Initiatives, responded to Jaffin noting that UMass remains “steadfastly committed to environmental sustainability.”
“The construction and renovation of SEL, Totman, and the Computer Science Laboratories are being done to modernize our academic buildings, and enhance our ability to attract and serve students from the Commonwealth and beyond,” Maroulis wrote. “Their construction does not change current enrollment targets, which have been consistent since 2020 at about 23,000 undergraduate students.”
When UMass put the pavilion project on pause in January, Blaguszewski said another location would likely be sought. He also wrote a statement about the reasoning behind the decision to seek out a new site: “The extraordinary spirit of generosity of our anonymous donor reflects a desire to both honor service workers who played an immense role in sustaining UMass Amherst during the pandemic, and to create an inspiring, contemplative space in harmony with its surroundings.”
Blaguszewski said the university recently reached out to AFSCME, the union that represents service workers, to share information on the project update.