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Amherst Unitarians plan $1 million expansion

  • Townspeople are pursuing options for saving a century-old pin oak that is slated to be removed as part of a planned expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst on North Pleasant Street.<br/>FILE PHOTO

    Townspeople are pursuing options for saving a century-old pin oak that is slated to be removed as part of a planned expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst on North Pleasant Street.
    FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Townspeople are pursuing options for saving a century-old pin oak that is slated to be removed as part of a planned expansion of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst on North Pleasant Street.<br/>FILE PHOTO
  • The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst is undertaking a $1 million expansion on the church's east side which will take away some of the parking spaces between the building and Rao's Coffee on Kellogg Ave.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Construction on the east side of the building, which will almost double its size, is due to start in May and continue through 2013, said Carolyn Cave, president of the board of trustees.

The Society has about 150 members, and an average of 80 to 90 people come to Sunday services, Cave said. There is no social hall, so after the services members have to remove the chairs in the sanctuary before the coffee hour can take place. There isn’t enough space for religious education, and many children have to leave the building for the classes, she said.

“This tiny, historic building has not met our needs for a long time,” Cave said. Members have contemplated expansion in the past, and the catalyst now is a very generous donation from one member of the congregation, she said.

The size of the existing sanctuary will not change substantially, Cave said. The new two-story space, which will be used on Sundays for a social hall and classrooms, will be available for rent to other groups, she said.

“This is a real plus, because there are not very many spaces of that sort in downtown Amherst,” she said.

The congregation will probably have to find another place to hold services during the construction, Cave said. The Society will get a detailed cost estimate this fall and the congregation will vote on the plan, though there is broad support for the expansion, she said.

The Society owns the land east of the building and has been leasing it to the Town of Amherst for public parking since the mid-1970s, Cave said. These metered spaces are often used by customers of the nearby businesses, such as Panda East restaurant, Paul’s Shoe Repair, the Amherst Yoga Center and Rao’s Coffee.

The 10 spaces closest to the current building, two of them handicapped accessible, will cease to exist once the construction starts, she said. The five spaces closest to Rao’s will remain, and the Society is discussing the terms of the new lease with town officials, she said.

Amy Chen, manager of Panda East, said the loss of the parking spaces will have an impact on her business, especially take-out customers. She’s worried about a decline in her business during construction, and she’s concerned that customers will no longer be able to see the Panda East sign from the other side of the expanded Unitarian Society, she said.

Robin Dizard of Amherst, who parked in one of the metered spaces on Monday, said the spaces are convenient, but when they’re gone perhaps more people will use the nearby Boltwood Parking Garage.

Unitarian Universalism, which attracts members from a variety of religious traditions, is one of the few faiths that is gaining in adherents nationwide. That’s true in Amherst, especially young families, Cave said.

“It fits with modern sensibilities because there’s no dogma that’s attached to it, and it’s very progressive,” she said. “We are a welcoming congregation, and provide a place where people feel free to express themselves and we respect the worth and dignity of every person.”

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