Amherst Unitarians move back into their renovated downtown building

Last modified: Thursday, May 01, 2014
AMHERST — A downtown church closed for several months as its building was renovated and nearly doubled in size has reopened.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst returned to the meetinghouse at the intersection of North Pleasant Street and Kellogg Avenue on April 13, with the Rev. Alison Wohler leading a “Coming Home” service. The service, which Wohler said was marked by the congregation’s joyful mood, was followed by a luncheon and a dedication of the Willie Eaton Social Hall in the new addition. Eaton is a major benefactor of the society.

This marks the first substantial renovation to the 1893 building since 1925, and brings the congregation into a new era, Wohler said.

“After a period of reinhabiting our space and adjusting to the significant expansion of our meetinghouse, the congregation knows that we have a truly special opportunity to live our mission to minister to ourselves, the community and the world in ways not previously possible,” she said.

The addition contains the social hall and kitchen on the upper level and expanded space for religious education and offices on the lower level. The building is fully handicapped accessible, with an elevator and new bathrooms.

A slightly expanded sanctuary is enhanced with improved insulation, windows, lighting and sound.

Besides exterior repainting, which will be done when the weather gets warmer, the remaining work is reinstalling the “Angel of the Lilies,” a window created by the Louis Comfort Tiffany studios in the 19th century. The window has faced the downtown for almost 90 years and the town is contributing $106,000 toward the $142,000 refurbishment cost.

The expansion and renovation project began in 2007 with the formation of a Long-Range Planning Committee and then planning, design and fundraising phases.

Gordon Wyse, president of the society’s board of trustees, said the congregation wanted to remain in the heart of the community. “We love our location and have had excellent support from the community and our neighbors,” Wyse said.

Peter Lacey, Carolyn Cave and Steve Rice led the Building Our Future Committee that oversaw the construction process, and Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst and Wright Builders of Northampton were hired to do the work.

During the renovation, the Unitarian congregation held its Sunday meetings and religious education classes at the First Congregational Church on Main Street.

Members of the greater community are expected to be invited to tour the meetinghouse and celebrate its expansion in the near future.