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Lowell legislators applaud UML plan

By From the Lowell  Sun

By REBECCA FATER, Sun Statehouse Bureau
Lowell Sun

BOSTON -- When Chancellor William Hogan yesterday unfolded the plan of how the University of Massachusetts Lowell intends to transform itself -- with $133 million of the state's help -- he found a willing and interested ear in the city's delegation.

Reps. Kevin Murphy, Tom Golden and Dave Nangle, along with Sen. Steve Panagiotakos' aide D.J. Corcoran, listened to the plan's details at a morning meeting on campus yesterday, and emerged with positive outlooks.

UML last week unveiled its $266 million plan to construct a facility to house its nano- and biotechnology ventures, as well as build a parking garage and renovate several existing buildings, involving the relocation of university departments on campus.

"I would support this without hesitation," said Nangle. "We have all finally woken up and realized that all public higher education has to be brought to the forefront, whatever the cost may be. How could you not be (supportive)?"

UML has proposed spending $133 million from its own budget to fund the multi-year project, with the hope that the state will match it with another $133 million. The state has already all but committed to spending $35,000 on helping UML construct a nano- and biotechnology research and development center. That proposal, included in an economic stimulus bill approved by the Senate late last year, awaits final approval.

That $35,000 is included in the $133 million UML is requesting from the state, which is all the more reason to support the proposal, Golden said. "If you think about it, we're a quarter of the way there," he said. "I think (the plan) is a great idea. It's extremely aggressive. And that's the way it should be."

Murphy, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, said he is equally excited about the prospects, but less sure as to whether there's enough state money to spread around. Murphy has been working for months to pass a bill that would flood the state's community colleges and universities with $400 million over seven years to help reduce the impact of budget cuts that public higher education began suffering in 2000.

"I don't think (UML) is asking for too much," Murphy said. "I support these renovations and new buildings, but I also understand the fiscal realities. I'm trying to get $400 million for 40 campuses."

The university has committed to spending $133 million of its own money on the plan, regardless of whether the state agrees to chip in, said UML spokeswoman Patti McCafferty yesterday.