New maintenance building opens after 13 years of planning, design

Chautauquans and Institution staff applaud as a ribbon is cut to celebrate the completion of the new maintenance facility last Monday off Chautauqua-Stedman Road. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

After years of planning, a new maintenance building for the Institution is now open for business. 

Last Monday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to recognize and celebrate what the new building means for operation.

The new property is located on the east side of Chautauqua County Route 33, also known as Chautauqua-Stedman Road.

Candace “Candy” Maxwell, chair of the Chautauqua institution Board of Trustees, started her remarks with a memory from a visit to the original maintenance building five years ago.

“Needless to say, (the old building) was a poor piece of it,” Maxwell said, “(and) served as a catalyst for pursuing a new vision for a facility that recognizes the key roles that our Buildings and Grounds Department plays in the life and success of Chautauqua Institution.”

Vice President of Campus Planning and Operations John Shedd leads a tour of the newly constructed maintenance facility last Monday. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

The new building is a result of Institution leadership and vision, she said, but became reality through donor support from Emily and Richard Smucker, Sheila Penrose, and Ernie Mahaffey.

On the same visit five years ago, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill said he remembered the “torrential” rain pouring through the electrical sockets in the old building.

“Our finance team was thinking, ‘Could we do some financing around this?’” Hill said. “I was confident enough that I said to Jack (Munella), ‘This is going to happen.’”

Hill said Munella, director of facilities and grounds, had a bit of skepticism, because a new maintenance building had been previously promised several times, and then the pandemic hit. 

“Emily and Richard Smucker surprised me by not only giving a gift to help us get through COVID,” Hill said. “They gave their (donation) with something that every president always loves to hear: the rest is at the discretion of the president.”

While the Smuckers didn’t make any special requests, the one thing they did ask for was a small plaque recognizing what the building means for the Institution.

“(The Smuckers) have brought joy to countless others,” Hill said. “The seeds they plant, the bricks they lay (and) the roads they pave can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations, said the new building wouldn’t be possible without Hill’s “true, empathetic, emotional and deep concern” for Institution employees, who work to create “a magnificent, beautiful (and) tranquil place.”

Groundbreaking took place in March 2022 and construction began shortly after, but the initial planning for the facility took place more than 13 years ago, Shedd said. 

“As we begin to occupy this gift from all of you, we will continue to be reminded of your thoughtfulness, generosity and how much you all care for us,” Shedd said. “We will continue to do our best to improve how we care for you in the many ways this team does every day.”

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, right, unveils a plaque commemorating the new building and Emily and Richard Smucker’s gift to the project. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Chaz Barton, a tradesman for the Institution since 1987, said the new building will drive their quality of work.

“This (building) is going to make a big difference for everybody in the future,” Barton said. “(It’s) a lot better working conditions (and) a lot better place, away from the Main Gate, away from the highway. It’ll make things better for everybody.”

All equipment from the old building is being moved into the new one.

“We’ll be doing the same thing but the spaces are better and it’s going to be a lot easier to work with,” Barton said. 

Having all of the vehicles inside and under one roof will make Buildings and Grounds more efficient, Shedd said.

“Our groups will be closer together and more functional,” Shedd said. “That will help with interaction and communication with what’s going on, on the campus.”

Shedd also said employee retention will be better with the new building.

“This is a nicer work environment for them,” Shedd said.

The new building is more energy efficient, handicap accessible and code-compliant, Shedd said.

“We have air units from outside air, combined with some of the radiant heat,” Shedd said. “We’re edging toward more energy efficiency and health and safety compliance.”

When people think of philanthropy, most donate to the arts, education or social issues, but Richard Smucker said donating to the maintenance building is just as important.

“Somebody has to keep the lights on,” he said. “There are dozens and dozens of people who do that work and don’t get recognized, yet they are keeping this place beautiful for generations.”


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.