With $34M Renovation Complete, Life on South Campus Will Never Be the Same

McGauvran Student Center
The second floor of the newly renovated McGauvran Student Center, which offers several retail food options, connects to the third floor via a new central staircase.

By Ed Brennen

Dining, living and learning on South Campus is about to improve in a big way thanks to the completion of the $34 million McGauvran Center renovation project.

After more than a year of construction, the completely reimagined McGauvran Center will be unveiled for members of the UMass Lowell community at a ribbon cutting and reception on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Following a “soft opening” in mid-January, the McGauvran Center will officially open for business when spring classes start on Jan. 19.

“I think once everybody sees it, they will be very happy with the results. The whole team did a top-notch job, from the designers to the architects to the contractors,” says Project Manager Fred Gavriel, who quarterbacked the repurposing of the 40-year-old building, made possible when many of the former occupants moved to University Crossing last year. 

The new McGauvran Center features 52,000 square feet of dining options, study spaces and lounging areas, making it the hub of student life on South Campus. 

From the main ground-floor entrance opposite O’Leary Library, students will find the all-you-care-to-eat South Campus Dining facility featuring “home-cooked” entrees at Full Plate, pizza and pasta at Aroma, sandwiches from Broadway Deli, a salad bar at Wilder Farms, gluten-free options at Choices and late-night takeout from Grill Out. There is seating for 400 on the first floor, including a bright and open section with a two-story glass wall providing a view of the South Campus quad.

The aroma of fresh-baked bread and coffee greets guests on the second floor, which connects to O’Leary Library and has seating for another 400 students, including several tables and chairs on a new outdoor terrace. In addition to a bakery and café, the second level features retail food options at Subway and Freshii, a Canadian chain specializing in wraps, burritos, salads and smoothies. Grab-and-go options are also available at the Merrimack Market.

The second floor is haloed by the balcony of the third floor, which is accessible by a new central staircase and also connects to O’Leary. Students can study by the fireplace in the learning common while faculty can take advantage of a private lounge. The third floor also features seven new smart classrooms and seminar areas, including one for 35 students and another for 50.

Once McGauvran opens, demolition of the Mill City Restaurant will begin in February, clearing the way for green space that will extend from O’Leary Library all the way to Coburn Hall.

While most of the McGauvran Center’s original structural “bones” remain in place, it was re-designed with energy efficiency and conservation in mind, in keeping with the university’s sustainability goals. In fact, the building’s architects, Bergmeyer Associates Inc., have designed it with the goal of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification. Lighting control systems with occupancy sensors will minimize energy use, while low-flow toilets and sinks with automated sensors will help conserve water. Food waste will be composted, while newly planted trees and landscaping will help absorb carbon dioxide.

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 passed away just before we started the construction phase of the project, so it was important that the building retain her name. And it’s part of the reason why we reused the existing building,” says Gavriel, who adds that repurposing the McGauvran Center, while challenging, also saved the university money. “It made a lot of sense rather than to demolish the whole thing and start from scratch.”

Phil Garrigan, an accounting graduate student, remembers the old McGauvran Student Center well. As an undergrad he worked in the second-floor Student Activities & Leadership office, which is now located in University Crossing. After seeing the newly renovated McGauvran Center illuminated from the inside while walking by on a recent evening, Garrigan says he can’t wait to step inside.

“It looks really nice in there,” says Garrigan, a commuter student who spends most weekdays in O’Leary Library. “Before, all you really had for dining on South Campus was Subway or the Hawk’s Nest, so it’s going to open up a lot of new options. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what it has to offer.”