Cumnock Hall was opened in 1954 as part of the Lowell Technological Institute. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
As students walked around North Campus on a busy morning, they hurried down the various paths leading to different academic buildings along University Avenue. It was a sunny day, and doors swung back and forth except for the six wooden doors in front of Cumnock Hall that sat untouched throughout the morning. However, starting in January, these doors will temporarily be shut for another reason as the university repurposes this 63-year-old building into the “North Campus Living Room” in time for next fall.
Cumnock Hall’s renovation marks the next step in the university’s 10-year commitment of restoring and updating some of its oldest infrastructures and bringing them up to par with today’s standards.
When Cumnock opens next fall, students will find increased seating that will create new spaces to hang out and grab a bite between classes, especially for the large commuter base.
Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Larry Siegel is optimistic that students will utilize and embrace this new space that is modeled after McGauvran Student Center at South Campus.
“I would walk around campus in see students sitting on steps [or] eating lunches in cars. They had no place to go since [North Campus] is not as green as we have made South,” said Siegel.
Between 2015 and 2016, the university brought outside groups and consultants to determine a solution to this problem. The results of this study concluded that available non-academic space at North Campus is very undersized in relation to its population. In addition, Cumnock Hall was determined to be the least efficiently used space on campus.
According to the final report, during the year 2015, Cumnock was mostly used by groups who had under 50 participants for a few hours per day, while events with over 200 participants only took place a few times during the semester. In 2016, the space was used even less frequently, with days passing in which Cumnock would sit completely empty.
Among the student groups affected by the closing and renovation of Cumnock Hall is the Latin American Student Association (LASA). Every April, LASA’s end of the year celebration at Cumnock, called “Rumba Latina,” draws over 250 students for a night of cultural performances, food and dancing. For next year’s event, LASA President Marcos Aguilar and his executive board are forced to find another centrally-located venue that could handle the large attendance.
“We’re working with LASA and other student organizations who are affected by this renovation to find the best option with little to no cost,” said Siegel referring to alternative spaces for large student events such as the Recreation Center basketball courts, Moloney Hall with a capacity of 300 students and the Inn & Conference Center Junior Ballroom, which is larger than Cumnock Hall with a capacity of 400-500 students.
“I’m pretty bummed. I’m worried about students not going next year because any other location will be less accessible to students compared to Cumnock which is centered and easier,” said Valeria Rendon, LASA’s public relations officer.
However, beyond this inconvenience, the executive board’s biggest grievance is that they feel their voice was not heard when the study was conducted.
“I do understand why they have to close Cumnock, but I heard about it when they were announcing it to the public. There was no input from students,” said LASA’s social chair Dominic Flores.
According to Flores, “It doesn’t feel like it’s for the students more than for making profit for the university.”
Many students on North seem to be excited about the idea of Cumnock being repurposed into a student lounge, especially commuter students like freshman Jonathan Meister. He is most excited about not having to walk to East Campus or to Southwick Dining Hall just to get a bite between classes.
“Southwick is small and doesn’t have a good variety of food. And I never go to the library because it’s always packed and there’s nowhere to sit,” said Meister, who is also a Student Government Association senator for the Francis College of Engineering.
According to Siegel, Cumnock Hall is not meant to be a full-service dining hall when it reopens in September, but is rather a student lounge that would sell breakfast pastries, bagels and coffee in the morning and grab-and-go meals during lunch. Students who have purchased a meal plan will be able to use meal swipes during lunch. It is Siegel’s hope that this would help students to maximize the value of their meal plans and allow them to save their River Hawk dollars for other purchases.
Many students will greatly benefit from this project once it is completed. The doors to Cumnock, which has been serving students for 63 years now, will swing open again in the fall.