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Guest columnist Robin Jaffin: Instead of a pavilion, give UMass service workers bonuses

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a $7 million gift from an anonymous donor to build a UMass Service Workers Honor Pavilion, recognizing the vital contributions provided to the university community by these employees. Sigrid Miller Pollin



Monday, January 16, 2023

While I was walking with my dog around the property and trails that surround the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies building on the UMass campus, I noticed a Bobcat tractor ripping out the perennial beds behind the former Dakin home. I also noticed stakes with orange ribbon in the field behind the house.

I did a bit of research and found the link to the notice from UMass about the Service Workers Pavilion.

Somehow, I had missed where this $7 million “gift” was to be located when I first saw this article in November. I do recall thinking when I read the article title the first time, why don’t they just pay the service workers the bonuses they should have been paid for working through COVID and beyond, rather than building an unnecessary and frivolous building? Certainly, each of them would have valued the $5,000 share more than some esoteric honor that they would get far less value from.

Did they run this by the service workers union? Do the service workers want this pavilion so they can be contemplative and hold family gatherings in? And if the answer was yes to those questions, why was it not being built somewhere central and accessible on campus since it is meant to signal that these workers are being honored?

Instead, the pavilion is being erected in a location that the university owns but is absolutely not central to anything students, faculty or staff would normally access, let alone see. It is planned to be placed on a piece of property that was gifted to the university and has been maintained as we can be sure the Dakin’s intended it to be — as open space — with an unencumbered view of the western hills leading down into the agricultural fields — essentially ensuring one of the largest remaining open green spaces in Amherst.

Even though the buildings themselves are not entitled to historical protection, they and the property remain significant historically and actively to many of us in Amherst.

The proposed pavilion will supposedly sit in a spot on the property to the southwest of the house. The article says it is meant to be accessible to the community for contemplation and gathering. From where I sit the property already provides those opportunities without adding a building that now will require maintenance and the destruction of the woods to provide additional parking. The closest bus stop is ¼ of a mile away and there are no sidewalks leading to the property. And while we do need more parking in Amherst, this is not what we meant.

And speaking of maintenance, anyone who lives here knows that the proposed open design of this building will become a repository for leaves, mud, graffiti and gravel and possibly worse. The intended white airy structure will quickly erode into an eyesore. An open building of this design will provide opportunities for gatherings, but most likely encourage teenagers and our unhoused population to seek cover here more frequently than the intended audience ever will. And as the proposed building is not viewable from the road or even from neighboring buildings one can only imagine how quickly this will become an added responsibility for the UMass police to monitor.

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? I can see that others have raised this concern on online forums where some workers are against the project.

I would love to hear from anyone who is a service worker at UMass to know if this feels appropriate to you as a form of honoring your efforts? Is it too late to petition the university to reconsider how they spend this money and where?

Robin Jaffin lives in Amherst.