Events

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Preservation Hall of Shame: Press Roundup on UMass Campus Buildings

The controversy over the destruction of historic resources on the campus of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has been big news over the past year.  Herewith, an overview of press reports antedating our  initial blog entry:

• Katherine Neubert, "Preserve UMass recent negotiations," Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 28 April 2008

a convenient summary of issues under discussion

agreement:  
that the main section of the historic Stucco Cow Barn, Milkers Bungalow, and Calf Barn could neither be saved nor adapted to a modern use.
still under discussion:
Negotiations now focus on a Memorandum of Agreement's (MOA) third draft by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and Preserve UMass, the Amherst Commission and the state Commission are ready to sign. Though, the administration and the UMass Building Authority haven't agreed yet.

The draft MOA contains a series of findings that document the events that led to the loss of the barn and give standing to Preserve UMass and the Amherst Commission to be parties to the agreement.

It also includes five stipulations regarding the preservation process. The University must produce written and photographic documentation of the stucco barn and several other historic buildings. UMass must also create a permanent exhibit documenting the important role the University has played in agricultural research.

More significantly, the agreement stipulates that UMass will conduct a campus cultural survey and master plan that will meet state and national standards with respect to the buildings that are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This includes planning for adaptive reuse of the historic structures to provide functions that are of current importance to the University.

• Kristin Palpini, "History lessons:  After project delay, UMass plans survey," Daily Hampshire Gazette, 19 March 2008

Announcement of the tentative agreement between the University and Massachusetts Historical Commission that the historic stucco barn may be demolished.  A prominent silo remained a point of controversy.  Preserve UMass and the Amherst Historical Commission had recommended turning the silo into part of a historic monument to and exhibit on the agricultural heritage of the University, a proposal included in the draft Memorandum of Understanding produced under the auspices of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
In the original agreement, UMass would have preserved the silo. However, after an engineering study was conducted, university officials said keeping the silo would not be financially feasible.

"Anything is possible with money," said James E. Cahill, director of UMass facilities and campus planning. The silo "wouldn't be able to stand on its own without significant structural enhancements, and so we've determined, based on that, that it's not feasible to do."

Joseph S. Larson, a member of Preserve UMass, a group of former and current UMass professors and preservationists, said he expects the silo will eventually come down. But he questions how much it would actually cost to keep the silo standing.

"When push comes to shove, the silo will go too," said Larson. "We agreed the Stucco Barn should go down soon."
The article goes on to note that the stop-work order cost money and time.  The contrast in approaches and values between UMass Facilities and Preserve UMass could not be clearer:
"If the university puts demolition of the old buildings on hold until that assessment is done and then uses that assessment to set priorities for preservation and adaptive reuse, we would deem that a success," said Larson. "That's really what we asked for at the beginning of this."

Meanwhile, contractors are moving ahead with excavation and preparing the site for the rec center's foundation construction.

"We're moving ahead full steam," said Cahill.

• Ben Williams, "Historic barn halts progress on recreation center," Daily Collegian, 7 Feb. 2008
Larson believes that the University now feels inclined to have professional historical review of the campus.

"Having to cease work is costing the University money, which is unfortunate, but that is the cost with not being compliant with state law from the beginning," Larson said. "Our hope is that after all of this dust settles the University will never get into this [situation] again."
Useful article, though, a more appropriate headline would read: UMass's cavalier attitude toward law prompts stop-work order.


• Diane Lederman, "UMass to sort campus buildings," Springfield Republican, 20 Dec. 2007

In the wake of the MEPA hearing (see below), UMass announces plans to send out a request for proposals in order to "for a consultant to evaluate the historic or architecturally important buildings on campus to determine which structures should be saved."
Hiring a consultant has long been the request from Preserve UMass. The group was particularly upset after the university was preparing to raze a historic barn on the site of a $50 million student recreational center before a consultant was hired and doesn't want any more buildings razed until the consultant issues a report.

State officials halted the razing because university officials had not submitted the request for permits with the state Historical Commission and the environmental policy office.

The project could be delayed up to 90 days, said James E. Cahill, director of facilities and campus planning. Cahill said, however, he is hoping for a resolution in a few weeks.

• Diane Lederman, "UMass to focus on preservation," Springfield Republican, 11 Dec. 2007

That was certainly wishful thinking.  The real story, of course, was the University's failure to do so. The report does provide solid background on the controversy in advance of the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) public hearing.


• Andy Smith, "Papers stunt UM complex," Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 29 Nov. 2007

Certainly an infelicitous title because it is opaque and confusing (note to student journalists: don't strive so hard for effect; be clear). That said, the article provides useful background to a failed attempt to find common ground in advance of the MEPA hearing:
Members of Preserve UMass and the Amherst Historical Commission met on Nov. 16 with James Cahill, director of UMass's Facilities and Campus Planning, to see if the three parties could agree on a joint response to the Massachusetts Historical Commission's [MHC] stop-work order for the $50 million Student Recreation Center.

The stop-work order, which was issued by the MHC on Oct. 26, was due to the failure of the University of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Building Authority and the project designer of the recreation center to comply with state law. Massachusetts state law requires building designers to notify and confer with the MHC when historic buildings are impacted by construction by state agencies. In this case, and in many others, this law was not followed, according to the commission.
Of particular importance are excerpts from official e-mails regarding violations of regulations by UMass.

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