By Sarah Favot
LOWELL -- State, city and UMass Lowell officials broke ground Thursday on what will be the campus's first new residence hall in more than 20 years.
The $54 million Aiken Street dormitory, which will house 472 students, is slated to be ready for move-in this fall.
During remarks before the groundbreaking ceremony, Chancellor Marty Meehan spoke about the need for on-campus housing at the university, citing the 37 percent increase in student enrollment over the past five years at the campus and how the campus community is more cohesive when more students live on campus.
"The first reason we want students to live on campus is we know statistically students are more likely to succeed if they live on campus. If we don't have top-notch housing, we won't attract the students we want to attract," said Meehan.
When Meehan took the helm at the university, about 25 percent of students lived on campus. When the Aiken Street dorms, named University Suites, and an apartment-style building near South Campus that will house 510 students are complete, there will be room for 50 percent of students to live on campus.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland, former president of Northeastern University, said everything Meehan said about the ability of on-campus housing to increase student achievement is true.
"It is absolutely transformative educationally to get something like half the students (on campus)," he said.
Officials spoke about the partnership between the university and the city. The dorms, within walking distance of downtown, will further integrate students within the city, Meehan said.
"This project is a groundbreaking project in that it further integrates the university with the city and further facilitates those kinds of interactions that can make this place even more special," said Mayor Patrick Murphy.
State Rep. Tom Golden, who represented the Statehouse delegation, said the new dorm was another success story for the city of Lowell.
"The economic development that is going to spin off for (Massachusetts Building Trades Council President) Frank Callahan and all those folks, for people that live right here in the city of Lowell and for the people that live in the Greater Lowell, I think it's going to be second to none," Golden said.
The exterior construction of the dorm was designed in partnership with the National Park Service to maintain the historical features of the mill buildings in the area, Meehan said.
The residence hall will consist of two five-story buildings and one four-story building with a courtyard in the center.
It will feature four- and six-bed units, with kitchen and lounge areas and study rooms. The first floor will feature a cafe, a multipurpose room and a 70-inch, high-definition television.
The architects from Boston-based ADD Inc. are aiming for the building to be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
B.K. Boley, ADD Inc. principal, said some of the sustainable features will include: recycled flooring, drywall and the ceiling system materials, fluorescent-only lighting and LEED fixtures, surface run-off will be stored in an irrigation tank and re-used and the buildings will be solar-oriented to maximize energy from sunlight.
"It's a priority of the university and the generation of students who will come to live in this dormitory expect it," said Executive Director of the UMass Building Authority Katherine Craven of the dorms' sustainable features.
"This building is going to be a model for what can be done across all the campuses of the University of Massachusetts."
During the groundbreaking ceremony, about a dozen or more union members from the UAW Local 1596, representing the university's adjunct faculty, picketed, holding signs that read "fair contract now."