Historic UMass Amherst Chapel Made ADA Compliant by Boston Architecture Firm

The historic chapel, originally built in 1884, was closed to the public for nearly 20 years due to code and access deficiencies.

Historic UMass Amherst Chapel Made ADA Compliant by Boston Architecture Firm

Photo: Finegold Alexander Architects

Boston-based Finegold Alexander Architects was recognized with the 2019 William D. Smith Memorial Award for Accessible Design from the Boston Society of Architects for its renovation of a historic chapel on a Massachusetts college campus.

The Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst) was built in 1884 as a 15,000 square foot library, classroom and assembly place. It was closed to the public in 1999 due to code and access deficiencies.

In 2014, Finegold Alexander Architects began a $14.3 million renovation project to transform the building into a student and event center with flexible and accessible space.

Preserve UMass, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and the Amherst Accessibility Advisory Committee were included in the process of determining the best redesign and use of the building, according to the firm.

“Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Chapel is a historic icon for the university. Located in the heart of campus, along two pedestrian thoroughfares, it was especially important that the renovation was sensitively done to preserve the historic character while providing universal access to the facility,” said Jim Alexander, senior principal at Finegold Alexander Architects.

The entry into the original building was only accessible using stairs. As a solution, the team designed a new main entrance on the south side of the building and created an integrated landscaped ramp and terrace. The new glass entry also allows for the addition of a contemporary accessible entrance without disturbing the historic fabric. Inside the chapel, an elevator was discreetly installed to connect all three levels of the building.

Other elements of the Old Chapel renovation include reconfigured program spaces with access and code-compliant doorways, accessible toilet rooms, improved lighting, and audio-visual and acoustic upgrades, including assistive listening devices and accessible signage. The project was completed in 2017.

More pictures of the chapel and its upgrades can be viewed in this slideshow.

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