UMass hits pause on pavilion project for workers after outcry from neighbors

  • UMass officials have paused plans for the a Service Workers Honor Pavilion, shown in this rendering, on the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies property. CONTRIBUTED/SIGRID MILLER POLLIN

Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts is pausing a plan to build a pavilion as a tribute to its workers on the outskirts of campus on the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies property, responding to outcries from residents who cherish the site’s woods and meadows as a place for recreation.

The university in November announced its intention to use a $7 million gift from an anonymous donor to build the UMass Service Workers Honor Pavilion on a 30-acre site surrounding the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies at 650 East Pleasant St.

The property was given to UMass by the late Janet Wilder Dakin, a founder of the Kestrel Land Trust and Friends of Amherst Stray Animals, and her husband, Winthrop “Toby” Dakin. Over the years the Tudor-style home and barn have seen improvements, including the introduction of Renaissance-style gardens.

North Amherst resident Robin Jaffin considers the pavilion plans an affront to both the memory of the Dakins, and how for 25 years the community has enjoyed the property’s woods and meadows to walk, watch birds and walk their dogs.

“One of my favorite places to walk my dogs over the years has been behind the Dakin House,” said Jaffin, who regularly brings her dog Bella there.

That’s why she launched a community effort to urge the university to find a more appropriate location for the project — or to ditch the idea altogether.

On Monday, following both written commentary and requests, the university announced an indefinite pause in the pavilion project, and that it would also look to find other places suitable for it.

“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,” UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski wrote in a statement. “The planned site off East Pleasant Street for the UMass Service Workers Pavilion has been the topic of recent public discussion, and we recognize the concerns raised by neighbors and other community members.”

“No construction work has begun, and the university believes it is wise at this time to pause and also consider other, alternative sites for the project,” Blaguszewski said.

Jaffin was alerted to the decision and wrote an email titled “The Meadow is saved!” to supporters.

“I cannot thank you all enough for joining together to help make this happen as I believe this decision is in direct response to all of our efforts,” Jaffin wrote.

Jaffin had organized an online gathering of others interested in the project earlier in January, explaining that she was heartbroken when she heard about the pavilion idea. “This is a particularly tone deaf decision by the university,” Jaffin said at the time.

In a commentary article published in the Gazette, Jaffin outlined more of her concerns: “Am I the only one who sees this as a vanity project that does not provide any benefit to the service workers, the community, the neighboring homes, the natural environment nor the wildlife in that area?”

UMass in November announced the creation of the open-air facility that it described as being a valuable community asset for quiet contemplation and get-togethers. The project was designed by architect Sigrid Miller Pollin, a UMass professor emerita who is donating her time and expertise, and the construction was to have been finished by summer.

“This beautiful new addition to campus will be dedicated to our service workers who played an immense role in sustaining the university during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will provide an enduring reminder of their importance to UMass Amherst,” Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswmay said in a statement at the time. “We are deeply grateful for all they do each day, and for our donor’s generous gift.”

Others who live near the Renaissance Center also objected to the pavilion project.

“It doesn’t belong,” Michael Weiler of Ridgecrest Road wrote in a letter to the Gazette. “It will be a dissonant intrusion to the surrounding landscape, a sore thumb.”

“It makes no sense to put it here,” Malobi Narayanan of Van Meter Drive said during a meeting to organize against the project. “There will be a lot more traffic, a lot more cars. There are a lot of concerns.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.