LOWELL -- Hearken back to 1975, a critical time in UMass Lowell's history when Lowell State College and Lowell Tech merged. At the same time, then-student Marty Meehan recalls the McGauvran Center opening as a state-of-the-art student union.
Forty years later, and after a $34 million renovation, the building is again opening as a state-of-the-art facility -- and what the university is calling the "new heartbeat of South Campus."
"I remember this building deteriorating over the years, but now this is a fabulous first-class space," said Meehan, UMass president and former chancellor of UMass Lowell. "Students deserve this type of facility."
The new McGauvran is the latest step in UMass Lowell's campus transformation.
To put it in perspective: For every graduation and matriculation ceremony at UMass Lowell over the last six years, a new building has opened.
There have been a dozen combined graduations and matriculations (two per year), along with the university opening 12 new buildings. The buildings are the result of new construction, acquisitions, leases and major renovations.
The university on Tuesday officially unveiled No. 12 -- the new and improved McGauvran Center on South Campus.
"This gives our students, faculty and visitors a world-class facility to break bread and even to attend class upstairs," Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said in front of dozens of students, faculty, staff and city representatives in the dining area and watching from the floor above.
"It's a phenomenal accomplishment to see this transformed into this beautiful building.
"Welcoming and warm spaces like this are essential for a student's experience," she added. "Students can meet new people and engage in university life here."
McGauvran served as the university's primary student center for nearly 40 years. After UMass Lowell opened the University Crossing student center last year, which brought all student services and most student-run organizations under one roof, the university decided to renovate McGauvran.
The building has been expanded to 52,000 square feet and features new study areas, a welcome center for campus tours, meeting rooms, classroom space and multiple dining locations.
Two floors of the three-story building will offer new dining options -- a retail approach that features well-known quick-serve brands such as Subway and Freshii, along with a bakery, grill and market; and an "all you wish to eat" dining concept that updates the traditional meal plan for students and replaces the nearby South Dining Commons.
McGauvran will open to the UMass Lowell community and public at the start of the spring semester.
"The progress here has been tremendous, and we hope to copy this progress at our other campuses," said Victor Woolridge, chair of the UMass board of trustees.
Of all the building openings, McGauvran Hall has been the most anticipated one for many students, said Matilda Matovu, a student alumni ambassador.
"All my friends agreed that it could use a face-lift," said Matovu, a biology and political-science major from Tewksbury. "I cannot wait to eat in the dining hall here."
The building was re-designed with energy efficiency and conservation in mind. The building's architects, Bergmeyer Associates Inc., designed it with the goal of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification.
"With each new building like this, the city benefits," said Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott. "It shows the progress of the university and the city.
"As the university goes, so goes the city," he added.
McGauvran Center is named after Mary E. McGauvran, the university's former vice president of student affairs who died in 2014 at age 96. She died before the university started the construction phase of the project.
"This woman positively impacted thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people, and she would be so proud of this," Meehan said.