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CEE Alumna Graduates from National Guard to Old Guard Charged with Renovating Historic Landmark

Melissa Trombley

Melissa Trombley

Melissa Trombley, a graduate of our Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department in 2013, is a member of the team that is currently renovating the Old Chapel, the historic symbol of the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. Trombley is a project engineer with contractor Barr & Barr, the company charged with refurbishing the historic landmark and reincarnating it into a new life as the iconic center of the campus.     

Built in 1885, the granite and brownstone structure has served the flagship campus as a library, classroom building, auditorium, and the home of the Minuteman Marching Band at one point. It was closed in 1996 after being deemed unsafe. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy declared renovation of the Old Chapel a campus priority in 2013, and construction began soon after. The total project cost is $21 million, with $2.5 million raised through private gifts.

“It’s exciting to be a part of an historical renovation,” says Trombley, “especially since it’s such an important part of the university’s past.”

Like the Old Chapel, Trombley has been reincarnated into several different lives at UMass Amherst. A non-traditional student, Trombley’s pursuit of her CEE bachelor’s degree was interrupted by her other life as a sergeant in the National Guard, for which she completed two separate tours in the Middle East.

“My degree path was stretched out over nine years,” Trombley explains. “After boot camp, I studied at UMass for a few years and then deployed to Iraq to drive trucks during my first tour. I returned to my studies for a while and then left for my second tour in Kuwait. The College of Engineering was very supportive of my military service, allowing me to take the time that I needed and not jump right back into an academic schedule. That’s important because it can be iffy for returning veterans to assimilate back into civilian life.”

After finishing her degree in 2013, Trombley was introduced to Barr & Barr during an engineering career fair on campus and was immediately hired. In addition to the Old Chapel renovation, she has also worked as a project manager for the construction of the UMass Amherst Integrated Learning Center.

“It’s very helpful having first-hand knowledge of UMass,” notes Trombley. “I often work with the site supervisor to schedule deliveries and advise the tractor trailers how to navigate through campus.”

The Old Chapel renovation is due to be completed by October of 2016. Design plans, created by the Finegold Alexander Architects, include several new features. A glass entry pavilion will be surrounded by an outside terrace accessible by ramps and sloped walkways. In addition, an interior elevator will travel from the basement to the second floor, and an underground mechanical vault will house heating and cooling units.

“It’s important to update the space and make it a resource for UMass, but we’re also very conscious of maintaining the historical integrity of the Old Chapel,” says Trombley.  “I’m very happy that we’ll be restoring the wood ceiling and exposed rafters. I think they’re really beautiful.”

Learn more about the campaign to restore the Old Chapel. (March 2016)