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Unitarian Church in Amherst to renovate stained-glass window using town money

— With funding approved, restoration of an historic stained-glass window at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst can take place.

Despite concerns from some Town Meeting members about spending $106,000 in Community Preservation Act money for a private, religious organization, by voice vote Wednesday the spending was endorsed as part of a package of $282,395 going to specific historic preservation, affordable housing, open space and recreation projects.

Also approved was a $15,000 for Family Outreach of Amherst to support an Amherst renters emergency fund that is expected to be used to assist those displaced from affordable housing at Echo Village Apartments. Family Outreach and the Amherst Housing Authority are launching a fundraising campaign that could bring this emergency fund to more than $50,000.

Carolyn Cave, president of the Unitarian Society, said the money will supplement $26,000 the church has raised that will be used to improve “Angel of the Lilies,” a window created by the Louis Comfort Tiffany studios in the 19th century and which has graced downtown since 1925.

As an expansion and renovation project at the church gets underway, the window has already been removed to ensure it is not damaged during the construction.

The town money will be used to replace the weakened lead that holds the glass together and will pay for the removal of dirt and soot that will brighten the colors of the window.

Cave said without funding from Amherst, the stained-glass window would have had to stay in storage indefinitely.

After the restoration, the window will be reinstalled in its place of prominence at 121 North Pleasant St.

The agreement with the town calls for the window to be more visible, which Cave said will happen through backlighting it during the evening hours, putting a clearer protective outer window over it and installing new frames for the panels. There will also be specific times when the public will be welcome inside the building to view the window over the next 99 years.

Patricia Church of Precinct 5, urged fellow Town Meeting members to vote in favor of the project, noting the importance of the window to people who walk downtown.

Carolyn Holstein of Precinct 2 said the window is a vital piece of the streetscape.

But Larry Kelley of Precinct 5 said he was uncomfortable with the outlay of so much money.

Select Board member James Wald said there should be no concerns about using the money for a project at a religious institution. Previously, CPA money has been used at the Hope Community Church.

And the project had been endorsed by the CPA Committee. “This window has been the primary feature of the North Pleasant street side of the society since 1925 and certainly is one of the historical treasures of Amherst,” the committee wrote in its memo to Town Meeting.

Other CPA projects include $60,000 for Mill River Recreation Area to upgrade the pool with new fencing, shade structures and lifeguard chairs, $53,994 for Amherst Media to archive more historic recordings and make available to public and $21,401 to conserve and restore an authentic Emily Dickinson dress at Amherst Historical Society.

Next week, Town Meeting will consider using $125,000 in CPA money to purchase 650 South East St., the former Rock Farm where housing developments have been proposed.

Legacy Comments1

Clarification: The CPA grant will supplement more than $20,000 that the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst has raised for the actual restoration of the Tiffany window, AND the congregation will spend an ADDITIONAL $26,000 for the protective outer window, new frames for the Tiffany, improved lighting for nighttime viewing from outside, etc. So the total we will spend from our own funds is much more than the $26,000 mentioned in the article. Thank you. Janis Gray, Chair, Stained Glass Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst

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