By From the Lowell Sun
By Jennifer Myers
As UMass Lowell students savor the waning days of their winter break, construction workers are demolishing three floors of their dormitory.
Fox Hall, the university's largest residence, housing 546 students, is undergoing an $11.8 million renovation that will result in the addition of 119 beds to the building that towers over LeLacheur Park on East Campus.
The 18-story tower, the tallest building in the city, has changed little since first opening its doors in 1973.
"There were a lot of water issues," said Nicole Gordon, a senior majoring in exercise physiology who lived in the dorm last year. "Some days you couldn't shower because the water was not running and it was hard to find a comfortable balance with the temperature in the building. There was no heat control."
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said students on the top floors often were forced to take cold showers because of the difficulty in getting hot water to the top of the building.
The project, being undertaken by Dellbrook Construction of Braintree, owned by developer Ed Fish, will result in the addition of a 400-gallon hot-water storage tank, new hot-water risers and booster pumps; and upgrades to the heating and air-conditioning systems, elevators, showers, security, and electrical systems. Additionally, every floor will have handicapped-accessible rooms and bathrooms.
According to Joanne Yestramski, vice chancellor for administration, finance, facilities and technology, the university began working on the project six months ago and chose Dellbrook from a group of 13 firms that responded to its request for proposals. Dellbrook's bid came in at $3 million less than the estimate they had received from the project's architect, ADD Inc.
The project is being funded by the UMass Building Authority, which is able to secure financing through revenue bonds based on the promise of future student housing fees. The debt service will be paid by student housing fees.
"The project will bring 200 construction jobs to the area, boosting the Greater Lowell economy," said Meehan, adding that the renovation will be complete before classes start in September.
"We have an immediate need for new beds," said Dean of Students Larry Siegel.
The university saw a 23 percent increase in the number of incoming freshmen last September, and with applications up 27 percent this year, they are anticipating a larger freshman class in the fall. There are currently 240 students living in the Radisson Hotel in Nashua due to the university housing crisis.
Meehan's goal is to bring the university to a 50/50 ratio of commuters and resident students. Currently, 68 percent of the school's students are commuters, with 32 percent living on-campus.
"When students live on campus, grades and retention rates increase," Siegel said. "They feel more connected with the university they attend."
The new housing configuration on the building's fourth, fifth and sixth floors will be set up to house groups of 15-18 students with shared interests in thematic "living/learning community" clusters with their own bathrooms and lounge spaces.
Focus groups have been held with freshmen to determine which themes they would be interested in. Some of the suggestions have included: politics and media; creative arts; and cooking.
The university also announced yesterday that it has entered into a one-year contract with Boston-based UGL Unicco to provide cleaning services at Fox Hall. The school received six proposals in response to the RFP issued and awarded the contract, which begins Jan. 23, to Unicco this week. All work will be done exclusively by union labor.
The one-year contract, with an option for two one-year extensions, provides for cleaning services seven days a week, up from five days under the current system of UMass Lowell-employed janitors providing the labor. It will cost the university an average of $139,000 per year over three years.
Yestramski said the agreement saves the university $162,829 per year and allows staff that was working at Fox Hall to be used in other facilities across the campus.
"That cost savings helped ensure that we could retain all our full-time housekeeping staff despite steep state-mandated budget cuts that resulted in layoffs in other areas," she said.