UML tech plan moves ahead with board vote

08/24/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

By ERIK ARVIDSON

BOSTON -- The vision's ambitious, the potential enormous: An $80 million nano- and biotech manufacturing center at UMass Lowell that could fuel economic growth, attracting new companies and thousands of jobs to the region.

And now there's no doubt: It will happen.

The UMass Board of Trustees, meeting in Amherst yesterday, signed off on the project as part of a five-year, $2.14 billion plan that would make improvements to capital facilities across the university's five campuses, including upgrading residence halls, garages, academic buildings, and physical plants.

The vote means that the university is committed to funding its share of the UMass Lowell project, which is about 73 percent of the cost. The rest would come from state and federal sources.

The nano- and biotech center is part of a $266 million effort to modernize facilities and laboratories at UMass Lowell campus. University officials hope to open the center by 2010.

Renae Lias Claffey, a spokeswoman for UMass Lowell, said the plan will be financed by the campus borrowing $133.1 million and seeking a dollar-for-dollar match from the state.

So far, the Legislature has approved $35 million as part of an economic stimulus bill to construct the UMass Lowell tech center. That includes $21 million in cash and another $14 million which would be bonded by the state.

State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, said an additional $10 million in federal funds might also be needed to close the financing gap, and U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan's office is pursuing those funds.

"The bottom line is that this is not a pie-in-the-sky project like some of the projects out there, and the reason being is we were able to get the $21 million in cash, not as part of a bond bill," Panagiotakos said. "If you're getting the funds in cash, it means there is a commitment to go ahead. The state is not going to start it and not finish it."

Lowell's legislative delegation will now turn its attention to securing the remaining $98 million requested by the UMass Lowell campus in bond funds to pay for the other campus renovations.

Last month, university officials launched a site-selection process to study potential locations for the facility. Three sites in Lowell and one in Chelmsford are among the sites being considered.

The UMass five-year capital plan includes a proposal to spend $435 million on deferred maintenance and $323 million on renovations throughout the university system.

Other campuses would also get facility upgrades, including $25 million for a new parking garage at UMass Boston, $93 million for an integrated science building at UMass Amherst, and $90 million for an advanced education center at UMass Memorial Medical School.