Old Chapel at UMass Amherst Receives LEED Gold Certification

Old Chapel
Old Chapel
Old Chapel interior
Old Chapel interior

AMHERST, Mass - The renovation of the historic Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED rating system is the foremost program for buildings, homes and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance.

Built in 1885, the Old Chapel is the most iconic and significant historic building on the UMass Amherst campus. Designed by Steven C. Earle in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, the building originally housed a library, auditorium, natural history collections and classrooms. It was later used as a drill hall, departmental offices and finally as home to the Minuteman Marching Band in the 1960s, before officially closing its doors in 1999 due to structural deterioration. 

The Old Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, and work began on a $21 million renovation, addition and preservation effort to restore the building to its original glory.  After a thoughtful planning process to find a contemporary use for the building while preserving as much of the original fabric as possible, the revitalized Old Chapel now serves students, faculty and alumni as a campus resource: the first floor provides a flexible layout for student study, gallery exhibitions and community events; and the Great Hall on the top floor provides a large open space for performances, lectures, receptions and weddings.

UMass and the UMass Building Authority hired Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to design the restoration and demonstrate how aspects of historic preservation and sustainability can work together.  The firm deployed an array of sustainability strategies to maintain the integrity of the original design and materials, while adapting the building’s structure and interior to modern use, access and building code requirements. The Old Chapel’s original structure consists of local timber and stone such as Pelham granite and Longmeadow sandstone. The design reused 83 percent of structural masonry, wood columns, beams, trusses and wainscoting trim and 82 percent of new wood products were either locally sourced or Forest Stewardship Council (CSC) Certified. The addition of a contemporary glass entry pavilion at the south façade is integrated into a landscaped terrace that provides full accessibility while also incorporating water efficient landscaping and rainwater management that improves site ecology.

Meeting modern indoor environment and energy efficiency requirements within the original exterior wall assembly was a challenge: the design team used energy modeling to find the correct balance of masonry wall insulation, energy efficient glazing and stained glass restoration so that sustainability goals were in concert with historic restoration efforts. The building is designed to exceed code energy performance by 21 percent and to reduce potable water use by 34 percent, and it will follow a rigorous measurement and verification process that ensures those savings are realized post-occupancy. 

The Old Chapel renovation is the first architecturally significant historic building on campus to achieve LEED Gold Certification, and the 11th project within a sustainable building program at UMass Amherst that includes 10 other facilities totaling approximately 1,155,000 gross square feet of LEED certified space. With six more registered projects undergoing certification, sustainably designed buildings are projected to make up 13 percent of the total UMass Amherst building stock.

Other projects that were recently awarded certification include the Paige Laboratory Renovations at LEED Silver, and the Integrative Learning Center at LEED Gold. 

“The LEED Building program exemplifies our commitment to sustainable development principles by lowering carbon emissions associated with construction, and demonstrates our focus on healthy, energy efficient, and durable construction that reduces operating costs and prioritizes sustainable practices,” said Shane Conklin, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services. “Our campus and buildings serve as an invaluable educational tool for students to learn from innovative design, construction and maintenance practices that model community sustainability.” 

To learn more about UMass green campus infrastructure and LEED buildings, read case studies, download building tour brochures and review energy data, visit the Campus Planning web page at www.umass.edu/cp/green-campus-resources.