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UMass Lowell Dressing Up In Style

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL As UMass Lowell strives to change the look and feel of its campus, flowers are sprouting from dirt and empty spaces are giving birth to steel and glass structures.

And even more landscaping, renovating and building is in the works as the university moves past the midpoint of a multimillion dollar investment in its campus and facilities that is designed to both improve student life and enhance the university's presence in the city.

With new parking garages, a new campus center and a new Graduate School of Education all either completed or in the planning stages, the university is smack in the middle of a major face lift that officials hope will infuse the campus with a new vitality and make life easier for its students.

The flagship project is the new campus center, slated to open in September. But a multitude of other projects, both visible and intangible, are in their final stages or have been completed.

Overall, it represents a $250 million capital investment over 10 years.

'It's put us in a position, where, both financially and on a programmatic level, we're better than we've ever been,' said Diana Prideaux-Brune, special assistant for economic development.

The funding for the new facilities and landscaping comes from a capital-improvements fund, which is a separate source from the state funding for the operating costs of the university. The school can only use capital-improvements money toward campus facilities.

University officials are already seeing the effects of some of the improvements applications are up and residence halls have wait lists for the first time in several years.

The most visible completed projects include Cushing Field, an athletic track and field complex along the VFW Highway, and the renovations to Dugan Hall, which has brought a multitude of student services in the same building for the first time.

Both the inside and outside of Dugan Hall are getting a face lift. Graduate and undergraduate admissions, the registrar's office, financial aid and accounts payable have all been relocated to the building in a one-stop-shopping package for students.

Outside the building, a dirt-laden front yard will soon give way to new trees, bushes and flowers in a landscaping explosion set to make the campus a little less urban and a little more green.

'It's all part of a grand scheme to better serve the students on this campus,' said Ken Lemanski, special assistant to the provost for academic affairs.

As it closes a chapter of renovations, the university is beginning to open a new one, with the plan of more funding for capital improvements.

Over the next five years, UMass Lowell expects to spend at least $32 million, funded evenly between the state and university bonds, on a variety of new projects, ranging from much-needed parking garages on north campus to revamping air conditioning and elevators in some of the older, historic buildings.

Two parking garages one to be built on top of the current student lot on north campus, the other near the Fox Hall dormitories across from LeLacheur Park will provide relief for students who have waited in lines and circled lots in an attempt to find a spot.

'That will happen. That's a significant, significant piece of how we need to develop here,' Lemanski said.

Big things are in store, university officials say. Students who come to visit the campus five years from now will be wide-eyed at the improvements much like alumni who graduated five years ago are now on their return visits to campus.

The plans for the college over the next five years, which also include a new alumni development facility and a move of the Graduate School of Education from its west campus location to the Lawrence Mills complex along the Merrimack River, recently received the seal of approval from the UMass system's board of trustees.

And while new buildings and new greenery draw the eyes of passersby to the campus, officials expect the improvements won't stop there.

'We're seeing some physical changes that are probably the most obvious, but it never stops changing,' Lemanski said.