Newman Center sold to UMass Building Authority for $12.5 million

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-22-2020 11:39 AM

AMHERST — The Newman Center, which for more than 55 years has served as the Catholic hub for students, faculty and staff at the University of Massachusetts, is being sold for $12.5 million to the UMass Building Authority.

The sale by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, executed by departing Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, was completed Thursday, according to documents at the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds, and is part of an agreement negotiated over several years that will lead to the construction of a new Newman Catholic Center on campus.

“For nearly six decades the current Newman Center has served as an important spiritual component to the university community,” Rozanski said in a statement.  “Through these mutually beneficial agreements, we will guarantee that important presence is maintained for future generations.”

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said that discussions with the diocese on the transaction began nearly five years ago, with  one-time capital funds used for the acquisition.

The three-story, 58,000-square-foot building, located at 472 North Pleasant St., opened April 1, 1963 at the edge of the still-growing campus. It features a chapel on the main level, along with classrooms, a lounge, a library and offices, with the Newman Cafe and a banquet hall on the lower level and the living quarters, or rectory for priests, on the upper level. The Newman Center sits on 1.36 acres of land and includes parking on its perimeter and a Bank of America ATM.

While primarily a place for local Catholics to practice their faith, the cafeteria is open to the public and the building has welcomed students of all religions and backgrounds as a place to study, especially during final examinations.

UMass anticipates leasing the building back to the diocese for up to five years so it can continue its current use, and also giving the diocese time to begin planning and constructing a replacement building on university land on the opposite side of North Pleasant, at Thatcher Road, near where the Hills House stood until 2017. That property will be ground leased to the diocese for $2.1 million, Blaguszewski said.

Blaguszewki said the Newman Center’s location at the southeastern gateway entrance to the campus means it has significant long-term strategic importance. Neighboring buildings include the Studio Arts Building and UMass Design Building, Mahar Auditorium and the Isenberg School of Management, and Theta Chi and Phi Sigma Kappa fraternities.

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“The campus will use the Newman Center to address priority space needs in the highly visible location,” Blaguszewski said. “Current potential uses include instructional and office space.”

The purchase also allows the university to manage that area far into the future, Blaguszewski said, while ensuring that the religious community remains.

“Newman centers are important to campus life on campuses across the county,” Blaguszewski said. “This is an opportunity to help them pursue their future goals.”

After six years as head of the Springfield Diocese, Rozanski is leaving this month to become the archbishop of St. Louis.

“I am happy we were able to bring this exciting endeavor to fruition as one of my final official acts, one which will be a blessing to our diocesan church for generations to come,” Rozanski said.

The building remains in good condition, Blaguszewski said.

In fact, in 2004, just after its 40th anniversary, the building underwent a $1.3 million renovation project that included new wiring, heating and plumbing, and the addition of sprinklers, an elevator and handicapped access. The cafeteria and its kitchen were also remodeled with new equipment, flooring, ceiling tiles and a revised floor plan for the dining area.

The late Monsignor David Power founded the Newman Center as the physical space for the Newman Club, which had been organized on campus in 1929. The building was constructed during the tenure of late Springfield Bishop Christopher Weldon.

The late Rev. J. Joseph Quigley served as Newman’s assistant director and then its longtime director, and remained a priest there for many years until his death in 2005.

For the past decade, Newman’s director has been the Rev. Gary M. Dailey, who signed off on the release of the existing deed restrictions on the building on behalf of the Newman Club.

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