UMass reopens one of its oldest buildings

  • Max Page, a professor of architecture and director of Historic Preservation Initiatives at UMass Amherst, served as master of ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday officially reopening the South College Academic Facility, one of the oldest buildings on campus. GAZETTE STAFF/MORGAN HUGHES

  • The South College Academic Facility is officially reopened Thursday after a $65 million renovation. GAZETTE STAFF/MORGAN HUGHES

  • Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy speaks Friday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony officially reopening the South College Academic Facility, one of the oldest buildings on campus. GAZETTE STAFF/MORGAN HUGHES

Published: 4/14/2017 12:40:34 AM

AMHERST — One of the oldest buildings on the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus took a turn in the spotlight Friday afternoon following a $65 million, two-year transformation designed to restore some of the original building’s features.

University officials cut the ribbon on the South College Academic Facility Friday, though the building opened earlier this spring. It houses the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, which includes the dean’s office, academic advising offices, and the departments of English, philosophy, history of art and architecture, and women, gender, sexuality studies.

Many aspects of the original building were restored during the project, such as using the original brick exterior as a centerpiece for the crisp, airy four-story atrium at the heart of the building. The 67,500-square-feet building is more than double the size of the original building, according to Patricia Filipone of the UMass Building Authority.

In opening remarks, master of ceremonies Max Page, professor of architecture and director of Historic Preservation Initiatives at UMass, referenced John Adams in the Massachusetts Constitution on the investment in literature and sciences through public schools, and said the renovation of South College and other academic buildings on campus illustrates a devotion those values.

“When we opened this building, we are saying loud and clear in the prose of brick and steel — or rather regionally-harvest, cross-laminated timber — that we are building the university the students of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deserve,” he said.

Page noted the locally-sourced products used in the construction and preservation of South College, such as bricks from Montague, granite from Pelham and brownstone from East Longmeadow. He added that the building is guarded by what is believed to be the world’s largest and oldest Japanese elm tree.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy spoke about the history of the movement for what was then the Massachusetts Agricultural College to adopt a bachelor of arts degree in 1938. He underscored the importance of arts and humanities in campus scholarship and identity.

“Making sure we arrived at this day has been a campus priority and a key component in our overall university strategic plan,” said Subbaswamy. “This facility advances our national reputation for excellence and reflects the critical role the arts and humanities play in our institutional mission.”

Humanities and Fine Arts Dean Julie Hayes spoke about the renovation and expansion of the South Campus building as a symbol of the values of arts and humanities education.

“This combination of old and new is symbolic of the enduring importance of the humanities and arts to this campus and to higher education,” Hayes said. “Our students and scholars look to the past to discern how people have sought to express, define and understand the world. They use this knowledge to inform new ideas, progress, and discovery.”

Along with bright and airy classrooms, offices and meeting spaces for students and faculty, the building features state-of-the-art audio-visual and communication technologies.

UMass Amherst Student Government Association President Anthony Vitale said that he appreciates the efforts to create spaces where students and faculty can congregate, collaborate and create. He noted that the building is usually full of students working and lounging in between classes.

“This campus is always in need of more spaces available for student use,” Vitale said.

He also noted that the project was a good way to “mitigate” the consequences of the deferred maintenance of aging buildings because it added a new space as well as completely updated an existing space.

The project was part of a $1.2 billion, six-year capital investment plan for the university. Future plans include the demolition of Bartlett Hall, the previous home of much of HFA and other departments, the renovations of Worcester Dining Commons and the Life Sciences Laboratory.

Morgan Hughes can be reached at

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