Thursday, October 23, 2008

PreserveUMass Shines a Spotlight on the University: bright spots and dark corners

This piece follows on our recent postings concerning both modern architecture on campus and the larger question of the University's willingness to observe State laws on historic preservation.

Preserve UMass, which has led the fight to save historic buildings on the campus, issued the following statement over the Massachusetts Historical Commission's listserve on 4 October:

Preserve UMass is pleased to report that the UMass Amherst campus administration has taken some very positive steps on issues important to historic preservation.

1. The professional assessment of all buildings 50 years old or older is underway. We will be watching to see how the results will be used.

2. The campus administration has decided to put Old Chapel under the wing of the Library and restoration of its interior is now on the top of the Library's list of fund raising projects. This makes a lot of sense since the Chapel (never used as a religious chapel) started life as the first campus library.

3. When the renovation of the Campus Center was announced the administration stated that the architectural design of the original architect would be respected. Many people do not like the concrete buildings of the 1970's, but they represent American architecture of the period and nationally known architects were specifically solicited to ensure that their style would be included on the campus scene.

Meanwhile, we have been waiting for well over 3 months for a response from the UMass Building Authority (UMBA) to comments on a draft Memorandum of Agreement sent to the Authority by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) in June. UMBA finally responded at the end of last week. We were encouraged to see that UMBA will now agree to MHC's request to document, though photographs and written material, the remaining three structures of the Grinnell Arena Complex, namely, the wooden Victorian Horse Barn, Grinnell Arena itself, and Blaisdell House (the oldest Mass Aggie built structure left on the campus). UMBA had originally wanted to be held only to documenting the now demolished stucco cow barn.

UMBA up to now has been refusing to support one of the most important outcomes of the professional assessment of the campus' historic buildings - namely nomination of qualified buildings to the National Register of Historic Places. We were pleased to see in their response of last week that they will withdraw from that discussion and defer to the Amherst campus administration. We will take that lead and press for campus acceptance of nominations to the National Register.

The most discouraging news in the UMBA response of last week was their continued refusal to admit that the projects that they undertake on the UMass five campuses constitute a "state action." UMBA in oral presentations at two public meetings have made it clear that they "are not part of the University." Their refusal to accept the MHC view that their activities involving state land, state owned buildings, and funds from University issued bonds, are not "state" actions is hard to explain, unless you consider that they may want to erect a shield from environmental and historic preservation regulatory oversight. We will continue to shine a bright and very public light on this issue.

Joseph S. Larson
Corresponding Secretary
Preserve UMass

No comments: