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Make over at UMass shapes up

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By STEFANIE SCARLETT Sun Staff

LOWELL -- Several spots around the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus are getting a face lift this summer, the latest projects in an ongoing capital campaign.

Renovations to the University Avenue area are wrapping up, construction on the athletic fields should be finished soon, and a new campus center will open in fall 2002.

It is part of a larger, ongoing effort to make the campus more student-friendly and aesthetically appealing, officials said.

"Competing for students in this day and age requires more than just having an outstanding academic program," said Athletic Director Dana Skinner. "It's getting increasingly challenging. Students are looking for a broader experience."

The beautification effort on University Avenue in front of Cumnock and Southwick halls is nearly finished. It involves putting in wider, bricked sidewalks and new landscaping, plus adding benches, a handicapped-accessible bus stop, decorative light posts and a low retaining wall.

The other side of the street was spruced up last summer. The total cost is about $730,000.

"It's a more inviting place for students, employees and visitors. Five minutes after we put the benches in, someone was sitting there," UMass Lowell spokeswoman Christine Dunlap said with a laugh.

"University Avenue is a city road and a (heavily) traveled road. We really wanted it to look like the UML campus," she added. "We wanted it to be more friendly."

Many classrooms, hallways and restrooms are also being renovated as part of the project.

The university has about 13,000 students and 1,300 faculty and staff.

And they will be able to cheer on more of their teams from the revamped Cushing Field athletic complex this fall. It now boasts a new natural-grass soccer field and an artificial-turf field complex for field hockey, football and track and field. The track team will be able to host home meets this fall for the first time. Tennis courts were also renovated.

The $3.5 million project started in July 2000. It includes new spectator stands, a press box, a scoreboard, an entranceway and a concessions and ticket area.

The new facilities also address issues involving Title IX, or educational program equity.

"We have been working diligently to retrofit the athletic fields to accommodate a growing women's collegiate program," Skinner said.

Cushing Field will be rededicated next month.

While the new student center won't be finished for another year, work is well under way at the building site on Aiken Street across from LeLacheur Park.

The two-story, 74,000-square-foot facility will include a multicourt gymnasium, indoor track, aerobics room, game rooms, locker rooms and a sauna. It will also have meeting rooms and an indoor/outdoor food court.

The front of the building will have a curved, brick entryway.

"Its architecture will be harmonious with LeLacheur Park," Dunlap said.

The total cost is expected to reach $19 million.

Skinner said the new center fulfills a request by students, made several years ago in a campus survey, asking for more recreational space.

He also hopes it will become a "social heartbeat for the campus" when it opens.

"From a socialization perspective, we hope it broadens the overall campus experience for them," he said.

Plus, it will add to the community's growing "Miracle Mile" area.

"This is the continuation of a broader strategy to create sort of a destination area along the river," Skinner said.