Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finally, some good news about UMass historic resources

At last, some good news.

It had been rumored at the end of May that UMass hired a historic preservation consultant to conduct the required assessment of historic structures. The Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette report that this work is now beginning. According to the former:
AMHERST - An architectural and engineering firm with an office in Boston has just begun evaluating historical buildings at the University of Massachusetts.

Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering PC has been hired for $175,000 to evaluate the historical significance and the condition of 113 buildings that are 50 or more years old, said UMass spokesman Edward F. Blaguszewski.

Hiring a consultant has long been the request from Preserve UMass - a group of former faculty and alumni seeking to save historically and architecturally significant buildings.
. . . .
Blaguszewski said the firm is expected to complete its evaluation of historic buildings by the end of the year.

"This is very good news," Larson said. His group gave the university a list "of seven or eight firms and indicated the person (in those firms) we thought would be appropriate." This was one was of those companies, he said. Company representative David Fixler was the company's representative that Preserve UMass requested.
As is often the case, however, the sense of optimism needs to be tempered with caution. According to the Republican:
Larson was disappointed, however, the firm would not evaluate some of the modern buildings.
"We feel the historical buildings are additionally important because they are in the context with the modern architecture. The campus is a living museum of American architecture from 1728 to the present ... But all that said, they've hired the right kind of person, the right kind of firm."
Concerning the scope of the undertaking, the Gazette further explained:
Buildings on a list of 113 UMass edifices over the age of 50 to be reviewed by Fixler include: the Student Union (built in 1957), Worcester Dining Hall (1953), Chancellor's House (1884), the Chapel (1885), the Horse Barn (1894) and Memorial Hall (1920).
[. . . . ]
The UMass study recommended the demolition of 16 buildings, including the Student Union, and the preservation of only one historic structure, the flagship's iconic Old Chapel. It would require $10 million in renovations to keep this building open, the report states.

Most of UMass' buildings will not be subject to Fixler's historic review. Officials estimate 68 percent of the campus' building stock was constructed in the 1960s and 70s. This wave of construction yielded a trove of buildings designed by world renowned architects including: the Campus Center by Marcel Breuer; the W.E.B. Du Bois Library by Edward D. Stone; and the Fine Arts Center by Kevin Roche.
Both Larson's praise and his note of concern are exactly on the mark. As noted in the original posting on this topic, the value of the campus as a sort of living architectural museum lies in its character as an evolving ensemble. The Amherst Historical Commission explained in its statement to MEPA:
Under the policies of the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places, buildings become historic at the age of fifty years. As the Preservation Plan pointedly states:

Architecture constructed in the 1960s, including many newer buildings of the University of Massachusetts, will be considered historic in 2010. If Amherst fails to include contemporary resources [in] its plans for preservation, it may lose these ‘new’ historic resources, and with them a significant piece of Amherst’s recent history.
On balance, though, this is very good news. Let us hope for the best.

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