Chancellor provides construction updates at open forum

“The North Campus Living Room” will feature plenty of seating and outlets to provide students a place to hang out between classes. (Courtesy of Larry Siegel)

Brigid Archibald
Connector Staff

A new recreation field, marketplace and renovated academic buildings are just a taste of what students can expect in the next few years here at UMass Lowell.

Last Monday, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted the Chancellor’s Open Forum at University Crossing’s Moloney Hall to update students on the status of various campus projects. Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney opened the forum by explaining how the university listened to student feedback from various groups, including SGA. They responded by taking underutilized areas of the campus and making them more comfortable and efficient while putting emphasis on improving accessibility and creating a greener campus. Through this process, UMass Lowell has lowered its carbon emissions by square foot while doubling the size of the campus with the addition of 13 new buildings within the last 10 years.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and University Events Larry Siegel walked students through the changes they can expect to see around campus within the next few years. The goal of these projects is to take spaces that were not being fully utilized and find creative solutions to problems that have arisen as the university has continued to grow.

Siegel’s first announcement is the much anticipated opening of Aiken Fields this semester The $6 million project will include various fields and tennis courts for student recreation and club sport use. Siegel also reported that the Campus Recreation Center is slated to receive a facelift. The plan is to take advantage of the empty atrium and effectively expand the available space by 20 percent to better accommodate the current demands of students without extensive construction. Some new equipment is also expected to be installed.

The next announcement involves next month’s soft opening of the University Suites dining hall on East campus. Due to employment challenges resulting from the late opening, the dining hall will not be fully opened until the upcoming fall semester. Instead, the dining hall will host special events for select groups of students on East campus to show off its new offerings.

During the open forum, students also had the chance to view the first draft plans of Cumnock Marketplace, which is dubbed as “The North Campus Living Room.” The space was inspired by the success of McGauvran Center on South Campus. Once opened, the new Cumnock Hall will include a marketplace, comfortable seating, plenty of outlets, TVs and bathrooms. The stage will be integrated into the design, creating a space for new types of events like workshops, poetry readings and more. The overall goal is to provide students with a place to relax, eat and socialize.

This artist’s rendering shows the first draft of what Cumnock Marketplace might look like. (Courtesy of Larry Siegel)

Adam Baacke, director of Campus Planning and Development was present to explain the upcoming changes to the academic buildings. The common goal for these buildings is to provide students with useful spaces to study and classrooms that accommodate new styles of teaching.

Perry Hall, scheduled to be reopened in the spring of 2019, is being completely redone as an engineering and science lab building. Perry will be given a brand-new entrance by transforming two-thirds of the current parking lot into a green space. This provides a more appealing campus with increased open spaces for students to study outside.

Baacke provided a peek into the plans for the renovation of Coburn Hall. When completed, Coburn’s top floors will become the home for the offices of the psychology department and the College of Education, while the classrooms will be located on the lower two floors. A new wing will be added to the back of the building to accommodate new elevators, bathrooms and a bridge between the existing wings. The first floor will house two classrooms that will offer complete light control for classes that depend heavily on audio and visual presentations. Additionally, there will be group work and quiet study rooms located in the building.

Olsen Hall will begin a phase renovation when the computer science labs move into Pasture Hall, which opens the third floor for more classrooms. In addition, Baacke mentioned that the floor will include two classrooms that will accommodate newer active-learning teaching methods that involve both group work and technology.

“We have not had the spaces for teachers to teach that way. We’re trying to accommodate it because we know students who have had that type of class really enjoyed it,” said Baacke.

Similar to Coburn Hall, Olsen Hall will feature group study and informal lounges for students to study and work on group projects. There will be new elevator lobbies on every floor of Olsen Hall. The hope is that these renovated spaces will increase seating, providing students with a place to study or hang out between classes so students no longer have to sit on the floor in the hallways.

After the presentation, the floor was opened to students to ask questions. A student voiced concern about how the added green spaces might encourage people to violate the smoke-free campus regulations. The administration responded that when it comes to the enforcement of the smoke-free campus, there is not much that can be done unless they are given a name or picture of the person, then they can work with Human Resources to handle the problem. Officials noted that the smoke-free campus regulation is a result of student advocating against the problem, and for it to work students themselves must be active in their support.

Another student voiced concern about the possibility of rising meal plan costs with the addition of the new dining locations. Siegel assured students that meal plan costs will not increase, and that the only reason they had gone up was due to the contract with Aramark that required a 4 percent increase. He further commended the chancellor saying, “She did not want for students to pay for more than 2.5 percent, she said we will find the money somewhere else.” Siegel also hinted at a coming announcement about changes in the silver meal plan that will ensure students to get more out of the plan.

Other students asked about the likelihood of other projects such as the addition of classrooms for art classes as well as a swimming pool to be part of the Campus Recreation Center.

“Yes, but not in your lifetime,” said Siegel, responding honestly to various comments.

Finally, both Siegel and Baacke assured students that if there is a need then it will be in the queue. “This is one of the downsides of being part of such a transformative period of the school’s history. There are projects that will start during the time here that some students will graduate before they are fully realized,” said Baacke.

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