By By Jennifer Myers, Lowell Sun
LOWELL -- Plans are in the works to add nearly 1,200 beds to UMass Lowell's housing stock, including two new dormitories on East Campus and the construction of a controversial apartment building on South Campus, as the university continues its march away from being a commuter school and toward housing more students on campus.
On Aiken Street, the design process is under way for a new, $50 million, 490-bed dorm in the shadow of LeLacheur Park.
The suite-style complex will be made up of two five-story buildings and one four-story structure situated in a horseshoe design open to Aiken Street, with a grassy courtyard in the middle. The design is the same style championed by renowned urban planner Jeff Speck, who visited the city last summer to craft a Lowell Plan-sponsored downtown evolution plan.
Chancellor Marty Meehan, in a meeting with Sun editors last week, said the university will borrow the funding to pay for the project, expected to be completed by the fall of 2013. Similar to all of the university's other recent construction and real-estate acquisitions, no taxpayer money will be spent.
Meehan said only about $65 million of the university's $300 million annual budget is provided by the state. The remainder is raised from student fees, room and board, fundraising and other revenue generators. Tuition payments, Meehan said, go into the state's general fund, not to the university.
"We need to run this university like a private institution, always looking for ways to boost revenue," he said. "The best way to deal with budget cuts is to increase enrollment. Nonstate revenue increased by $17 million last year."
Since Meehan became chancellor in 2007, the school has weathered $23.5 million in state funding cuts, while making $12.2 million in budget cuts and increasing enrollment by 30 percent.
In addition to the Aiken Street dorm, UML expects to complete its University Crossings project within the next two years. The university purchased the 295,000-square-foot, six-building former St. Joseph's Hospital campus on Pawtucket Street for $6.3 million in January.
This summer, UMass Lowell police are expected to move their headquarters to the site, which is strategically located between the school's North, South and East campuses.
Ultimately, the site will also include several university student-services administrative offices, a 300-bed dormitory and a 20,000 square-foot university bookstore with a Starbucks franchise. Meehan said the university recently inked a deal with Follet Corp., the same company that runs the Middlesex Community College bookstore, to manage the UML store.
"It will be a world-class bookstore, equal to that of the private universities," he said.
A 500-bed apartment building on Marginal Street is expected to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2012. The university had originally entered into an agreement with Brasi Development Corp., to build the project and ultimately lease it to the school in 2008.
Following a complaint by a losing bidder, Attorney General Martha Coakley put the kibosh on the project, ruling that the deal violated public bidding laws. The state's Supreme Judicial Court upheld Coakley's ruling.
In April, state legislators added a line item to a $325 million midyear spending bill, allowing Meehan to enter into a 10-year lease agreement with Brasi Development for use of the building. That lease can be renewed for 10 years at a time at the end of each lease cycle.
Meehan said the apartment-style rooms will appeal to international students who prefer housing that includes a full kitchen.
Other growth projects on the university's radar include:
A 650-space parking garage next to the Costello Gym on the North Campus, aimed at alleviating the campus's long-standing parking crunch. It is expected to be completed in the fall of 2012.
A $30 million College of Management building, to be constructed on North Campus where Eames Hall now stands. Eames Hall is the university's oldest residence hall and the only one on North Campus. It has 118 beds.
"The students want to live on East Campus, so we are focusing most of the housing there," UML spokesperson Patty McCafferty said.
UMass Lowell alumnus Robert Manning recently committed to donating $5 million for the College of Management project. The university's financing plan includes raising $15 million privately and borrowing $15 million.
"Having a strong school of management, combined with our strong engineering and science programs, makes us unique," Meehan said. "There is a lot of focus now on the business side of technology and science, and we will be on the forefront."
Construction is under way on the $70 million, 84,000-square-foot Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center on North Campus, expected to be completed in August 2012, and the $40 million, 69,000-square-foot Health and Social Sciences Building on South Campus, expected to be completed during the 2012-2013 school year.
The university is also working on plans to renovate and expand the dining hall at Fox Hall on East Campus, expected to be completed in the fall of 2012.
Meehan pointed out that despite the boom of growth the university has undertaken in recent years, its debt ratio remains low, at 5 percent of its annual budget. The UMass board of trustees recommends a debt ratio of 8 percent to 9 percent, a number Meehan said the university will remain below.
"When I got here, the debt service was at 4 percent," he said. "It is almost irresponsible to have a debt service that low with the facilities we had."