Councilors have doubts over Amherst College ‘gateway’ sign on public green 

Artist’s conception of proposed placemarking or gateway sign for Amherst College, at the intersection of College and South Pleasant streets.

Artist’s conception of proposed placemarking or gateway sign for Amherst College, at the intersection of College and South Pleasant streets. CONTRIBUTED

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-13-2024 11:14 AM

AMHERST — A large gateway sign to greet visitors to the Amherst College campus coming from points west and north, better announcing the college’s presence at the southern edge of downtown, is again being proposed for installation by college officials on a portion of the town green.

More than two years after the college first unveiled its “Campus Signage and Wayfinding System,” put together by Roll Barresi & Associates of Cambridge and featuring more than 80 signs to direct and guide people to parking and buildings, the place-marking sign that would go on the southeast side of College and South Pleasant streets is one of the final elements awaiting town approval.

With the new sign to be reviewed by the Town Services and Outreach Committee before returning to the full council on March 18, At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said at the Feb. 5 meeting that her concern, as it was during first review in the summer of 2021, is the sign is too large, with letters that are two feet high.

“That’s huge height for a sign, two feet high,” Hanneke said.

Hanneke compared the size to the smaller “Welcome to Amherst” signs that the town has unveiled, including in the roundabout at East Pleasant and Triangle streets.

“I share the concerns that the sign may be a little bit too large,” District 5 Councilor Robert Hegner said. “My concern is people coming up the hill on Northampton Road may be distracted by this sign, and miss the other signs.”

“I would tone it down a little bit,” Hegner added. “I think it’s too big.”

Seth Wilschutz, assistant director of planning, design and construction at Amherst College, said the work on the sign program began in 2019, with families and visitors to the college observing the challenges they were having in finding parking and buildings.

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“We effectively had no signs on campus,” Wilschutz said.

Since then, the comprehensive program developed place-marking signs, parking signs, vehicular direction signs, pedestrian directional signs and building signs, Wilschutz said. The project is nearing completion, following approvals from the town’s Historical Commission and Design Review Board, with just the gateway or place-marking signs to be installed, including one that is awaiting a building permit along South Pleasant Street near the athletic complex.

The main gateway sign will be prominent, with the 18-foot-long curved metal sign rising four feet from the ground. The sign will be a deep aubergine, or dark brownish purple, with white lettering, held in place on a granite block at both ends. A small seating wall will extend an additional 18 feet along the sidewalk.

“I am delighted to see the signage,” said District 4 Councilor Pamela Rooney. “I’m just very happy to see Amherst College recognized on the street.”

But Rooney wondered if the sign will block views for motorists exiting College Street.

Wilschutz notes that Amherst College helped fund various improvements to the roads and sidewalks at the corner, and might consider pulling the sign back from the street if it interferes with traffic.

At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg said the council’s decision is about giving consent to the college for putting a sign on land that belongs to the town and is part of the public way. But he said the college maintains the green space, due to it being situated between Converse Hall and College Hall, and down a slope from the Octagon.

Still, District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier said she would like to find a way to make sure that the site is seen as community space, not part of the college, and that people feel welcome to use it.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.