Construction of new academic building facing resistance

By Ardee Napolitano

The construction of a new academic building scheduled to be built next to the Campus Pond on the University of Massachusetts campus, while met with praise and enthusiasm from some University officials, is facing scrutiny from other members of the campus community who contend that the location of the building could encroach upon the pond.

Joseph Larson, a professor emeritus of Environmental Conservation, said the proposed construction of the new building – which is planned to begin in March 2012 and completed by January 2014 – will “ruin the campus pond,”  which he said is a major historical landmark of the University.

“The selected site was on a recognized historical landscape,” Larson said. “Now, this requires a little explanation.”

Larson is the corresponding secretary of Preserve UMass, a group of faculty members and students that are opposed to the construction of the building for historical reasons.

All projects that would make major changes in historical landscapes in the state need approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission before funds are allotted and designs are produced, Larson said. He said that the administration had not filed the documents required by the Historical Commission until six months after the plan’s conception, and because of that, the administration did not comply with state laws.

“The landscape around the Campus Pond has been officially recognized as a historical landscape for a number of reasons,” Larson said. “They selected that site with no notice to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. That’s our concern.”

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, however, said that the school has not violated any regulations.

“We filed the papers that we were required to file,” he said.

Blaguszewski said that the building – which will be the new home for the journalism, linguistics, communications and film studies departments – “will fill a vital need for us as a teaching facility.” He also said that the construction will not affect the historic character of the pond.

“There’s a disagreement on what this building will do, but we do not believe that it will compromise the area around the pond,” he said.

Jim Hunt, the communications manager of Facilities Planning at UMass, said that the project will only improve the area.

“The only impact that it would have to the north of the pond would be vast improvement, structurally and aesthetically,” he said.

Hunt said that the construction would provide the opportunity to solve the Campus Pond’s drainage issues. He also said the construction will repair rundown utility systems that run north of the pond, such as the east part of the campus’ water system, which is “badly in need of repairs.”

Still, Larson questions the selection of the construction site. There are 10 alternative locations for the new building, including a space near the Isenberg School of Management, that would not affect the University’s historical landscape, he said.

The space near Isenberg, though, would be a very inconvenient site for a building, according to Hunt. He said that one of the administration’s goals is to create a more centralized and more pedestrian-friendly campus, and the selected site of the building would fulfill that.

“We’re creating the central core of the campus to have integrated student life,” Hunt said.

According to the Facilities Planning website, the new building will be constructed beside the Hasbrouck Laboratory, with the east entrance in front of the bus stop at North Pleasant Street, and the north one adjacent to the Campus Center. The area around the building will be cemented and converted into a walkway, with one path leading to the Campus Center’s Blue Wall, and one going to the Student Union.

There will also be a pentagon-shaped lawn north of the pond surrounded by the Student Union, Campus Center and the new academic building.

“This is a central location, and it is really going to create a lot of energy on campus,” Blaguszewski said.
In addition, Blaguszewski and Hunt said that the administration is committed to protecting the Campus Pond in every way.

“We certainly share Professor Larson’s values that we need to always respect the historic character of the campus,” Blaguszewski said. “The campus pond is a real gem, and we want to make sure that it is preserved and maintained well.”

“Every effort will be made to indemnify and protect the pond and the building,” Hunt said.

Still, Larson said that Preserve UMass will not give up its cause, especially because of the support it has garnered from national organizations, such as the Library of American Landscape History. He thinks that University officials should meet with the Historical Commission, review the alternative sites and have what he described as formal approval before beginning the project.

“The University must not avoid their responsibilities to a historic campus when they’re doing the construction,” Larson said.

At the moment, though, the University has no plans of aborting the current project, Hunt said.

“It’s been well-planned, it’s a great project and it’s ready to go,” he said.

Ardee Napolitano can be reached at [email protected]