It has been a month since the Riverview Suites Ribbon Cutting Celebration. On Oct. 1, 2015 the project was touted as a precedent setting public-private partnership involving UMass Lowell, Soho Development and the city of Lowell. As Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney said, “This is the first and only public-private residence hall in the State of Massachusetts. And we’re happy to lead the way on this kind of innovative development which demonstrates the entrepreneurial initiative that we as a university take every day in running this institution.”
With construction officially completed, students have settled into the new east wing for the fall 2015 semester. But the new residents were not the only ones to benefit by having a private developer complete the project.
The Riverview Suites project took place during a major recession when many local workers were unemployed. The public-private partnership setup allowed a variation in the hiring practices normally required under the public bidding laws set forth in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 149.
The special arrangement between UMass Lowell, a private developer and the city of Lowell provided an opportunity to bypass state regulations. As a result, the developer was able to hire more local workers to complete the work, and the city is able to recoup tax revenue, which state institutions are usually exempt from paying.
According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Larry Siegel, working with a private developer “allowed us to support people in the city of Lowell, which is a big reason why we wanted to do this. A lot of the people who were working on this project were from Lowell, and they felt like they were doing something good for their city.”
When the university decided to add a fitness area and the health sciences suite late in the project, the developer was able to facilitate the changes by fast tracking modifications to the design of the programmed space. Had the project been state funded, additional costs would have been added that may have prevented the work from being completed.
Siegel said, “Those changes couldn’t have happened in the same way had it been a state project, because of the tremendous costs associated with redesign when using the state design process. Soho Development was able to modify the design, making the changes financially efficient without any real loss of schedule time, which was good for everyone.”
Two student roommates who benefited from the changes were sophomore nursing majors Anna Kleis and Lauren Dari who live in an apartment style unit in the Health and Environment Academic Living & Learning (HEALL) section of the building.
“I like living in the HEALL community with other health majors. If you have a question, you can just walk down the hall and knock on someone’s door to get an answer. The floor accommodates majors in health, physiology and clinical lab science,” said Dari.
As Siegel had said, “Initially, the project was a concept to increase housing on campus. Then, during the first phase of the project, the university started to grow and expand.” It then developed a greater vision and began looking at “living/learning, wellness, fitness and applied learning, integrating the in and out of classroom experiences.”
Because of the public-private partnership, “we were able to include a total living & learning environment which not only allows students to have classes here, but enables us to hold internships and practicum experiences on site.” The innovative arrangement also “allows us to work with health and science faculty members in a lab environment that’s built into this building. In some ways, it’s one of the unique programs in the nation.”
Riverview Suites also provides close proximity of the UMass Lowell Transportation Services which benefits both residents and local businesses. Kleis and Dari use buses and shuttles to go from campus to campus, to the Drum Hill shopping center and to Downtown Lowell. “This project has allowed us to move our agenda to make the students feel more connected with the city,” said Siegel.
“Sometimes we take the bus to the ICC. We go to restaurants and we shop in downtown Lowell. It’s really nice, said Dari.” Kleis, echoing Dari’s comments while pitching her own, said, “There are a lot of good restaurants in downtown Lowell. Diverse cultures are represented, so it’s nice to go downtown and get food that’s authentic.”
Siegel is sold on the advantages of public-private partnership projects. And, with an eye to the future, he summed up the experience when he said, “It was financially efficient. It was efficient in terms of the time it took to build the project. It was just good for everybody.”