Andrew J. Sciascia
In previous academic years, North Campus students have found themselves between classes sitting out in their cars, cramped elbow to elbow in hallways outside their lecture halls to do homework or making the lengthy trek back to Fox Dining Commons just to have a bite.
Recognizing a key issue in the lack of common space for students on North Campus, UMass Lowell faculty and administrators set themselves to the task of rectifying the situation.
After months of searching and deliberation, they found their inspiration in South Campus’s McGauvran Center and Merrimack Market.
“The vision for Cumnock was not just another dining space… What we wanted to do with Cumnock, essentially, was to create a ‘living room space’ for the students on North Campus similar to the space South Campus students have on the second and third floors of McGauvran,” said Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Larry Seigel.
Despite some pushback from student organizations who made use of the function space provided by Cumnock Hall, university officials set their plan in motion.
The once underutilized function space has now reopened for student use last week after several months of renovation courtesy of Aramark to the tune of $5 million.
“In devoting to the project, we took an in-depth look into all the programs held in Cumnock. And over two years there were only a half-dozen large programs held in the space. We just felt it would better serve our students as this ‘North Campus living room’,” said Seigel.
The new layout utilizes the old stage as a raised seating platform and marketplace, complete with bagged snacks, bottled drinks and two counter service meal options. The rest of the room is laid out with tables, chairs and comfortable upholstered booth seating. The space is also equipped with several outlets and a handful of armchairs.
Thus far, North Campus majors love the functionality.
“I think it’s great… There are a substantial number of options here; many more than Southwick. I think they’re utilizing the space much better in here than they have in the past. Honestly, I only ever heard of one event being held in here before this, so I think it’s a good change,” said junior electrical engineering major Brendan Farrell.
This seems to be the consensus on the reopening among the majority of veteran North Campus students. For them, Cumnock is put to far better use serving any and all students in need of a space throughout their days on North as opposed to lying in wait for student organizations to use the hall as a function space once every couple of weeks.
In fact, the only complaint students have expressed in regard to Cumnock Hall is that the numerous ceiling fans struggling to keep the AC-free space cool make excessive amounts of noise and constantly blow strongly enough to send papers flying from tables.
This minor complaint is not, however, the only one lofted at the Cumnock makeover. The renovations took many of the student organizations that did find the original space useful by surprise. Those students have actively expressed major concerns with the renovation permanently displacing their traditions. One such student is Timi Ogunjobi, president of Men Achieving Leadership, Excellence and Success (M.A.L.E.S.) who held their annual Back to Campus party in the space in previous years.
“It was the place where students could have their biggest events – For Free… Those events were things that brought the campus together. Events like Cambodian New Year, which gave back to the Lowell community. I just worry that with no locations as large and flexible as Cumnock, those events will go away,” said Ogunjobi, a senior mechanical engineering student.
It was mid-Spring 2018 semester when student organizations began to give conflicting reports on just how receptive and flexible they feel UMass Lowell administrators had been in response to their qualms with having large annual events displaced by Cumnock’s transition into the ‘North Campus living room.’
Administrators claim they have fielded the complaints of UMass Lowell’s many student organizations and are working diligently on solutions for spaces and event costs in light of the renovation. Vice Chancellor Seigel cites the university offering up spaces like the Moloney Hall or the Inn & Conference Center Ballroom to student organizations free of charge; even offering to provide free shuttle service for specific events.
The Latin American Student Association (LASA), who hosted their popular annual “Rumba Latina” in Cumnock, seemed to appreciate the concessions but feel they did not go far enough in providing an alternative for displaced events. LASA President, junior psychology major, Elizabeth Antuna said the offer represents a kind gesture, but remains displeased; citing the fact that the university will not budge on Aramark catering any and all ICC events as a result of contract.
“There just isn’t that much wiggle room because of university regulations… The ICC just isn’t an option for us, because we cannot have food donated. We would prefer to have authentic food at our event, and the fact that we would have to have Aramark cater really hinders us using that larger space,” said Antuna.
Unfortunately for student clubs and organizations feeling overall unheard by administration in regard to their displaced events, it appears they will be forced to adjust to the growing pains that come with increased population on campus at a rising nationally recognized university.
Regardless, those very same student organizations are run by strong willed and resourceful students who look forward to facing the challenge of working things out with university higher ups.
“We’ve been given the avenue to talk to administration and to Chancellor Maloney and President Meehan… I felt like they were willing to listen to us and they ensured us if there were ways they could help us find space for those large cultural events they would help us. We’re just going to have to look forward to working with them on making those improvements,” said Ogunjobi.