Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass’ Old Chapel to become new once again

By Colby Sears

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The Old Chapel has long stood as a historic landmark at the heart of the University of Massachusetts campus. Come 2016, however, the iconic building will enter a new era, complete with a new interior.

Currently in the midst of a $21 million renovation, the building, which has been around for 129 years, is scheduled to reopen next October for students, faculty and alumni to utilize as a venue for receptions, formal dinners, weddings and gallery displays, among other potential uses.

“We’re trying to make multifunctional, multipurpose spaces for student use,” said UMass Project Manager Jeff Quackenbush of the renovations. “There will be space for lounging and meetings during the day, and space for scheduled events for the evenings.”

The first floor will house a general, double height entry lobby leading into a larger multipurpose space. Movable furniture and partition walls in this room will allow for different events like art exhibits or musical performances. Plans also include a conference room available for student bookings.

According to Quackenbush, who was mainly responsible for overseeing the design phase of the project and is now monitoring the construction process, the main area will also feature an interactive display wall with nine touch screens.

These displays will allow visitors to learn about and engage with both the history of the campus and the chapel, which has been closed now for 19 years.

“The project is a total gut job of the interior of the building, except for leaving the original structure,” said Quackenbush of the renovations, which are funded through the University of Massachusetts Building Authority.

He says the second floor, from which visitors will be able to see the original exposed timber framed ceiling – albeit in a refurbished state – will be used as a space for larger events.

“It can be set up either with tables and chairs and served meals for special events… or we can have guest speakers come in, or the chancellor can come in for a presentation,” he said of the room, which can seat over 100 people when set up with just chairs, whereas he said the first floor can seat about 50.

According to the website for UMass Rising, a University-led fundraising campaign that is providing $2.5 million to the renovation, Kumble Subbaswamy assessed that a renovation of the chapel should be a campus priority in 2013, as the University celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Current work on the chapel will have little impact on students when they return for the fall semester, according to Quackenbush, with construction taking place behind established fences. The main pedestrian walkway running through the area will be unobstructed by the time students arrive.

Though the chapel will preserve the same four walls it has occupied since it was built in the late 19th century, the renovations will also bring a new plaza on the south side of the building facing nearby Memorial Hall.

This outdoor terrace will create a new entrance to the chapel featuring ramps and sloped walkways, opposed to the existing east and west entrances currently in place. Design plans also show a new glass pavilion that will be integrated into the existing structure.

Other modern additions to the building include a new interior elevator in the lobby and a full catering kitchen, storage area and restrooms in the basement.

Originally designed by Worcester architect Stephen C. Earle when UMass was still known as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, the granite and brownstone building was first planned to feature a library, a reading room, a natural history collection, and a chapel for religious services and academic lectures.

It was renovated in 1936, creating learning spaces in place of the first floor library and operating as a classroom building. In 1996, it closed due to deterioration of the tower.

In May, the chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a national list of places worthy of preservation, as well as historic and architectural appreciation.

“This well-deserved national recognition affirms our commitment to preserving the rich historical past of the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” said Subbaswamy in a news release. “The restoration of Old Chapel will revive this beloved UMass emblem and place it once again at the center of campus life.”

With the support of the University, private advocacy group Preserve UMass began the application process, which was completed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, according to the release. It was then submitted to the National Park Service, which manages the list.

The application cited the chapel as a reminder of the school’s history, recognizing its architectural value and its ability to provide memories to many generations on campus.

Colby Sears can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colbysears.

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