By Ed Brennen
New recreation fields, expanded on-campus housing and the planned renovation of Perry Hall were among the topics covered at this fall’s Chancellor’s Forum, which drew more than 100 students to University Crossing.
Presented each semester by the Student Government Association, the event focused on the campuswide master plan, including updates on current construction, accessibility and future projects. Students also seized the opportunity to ask about topics such as tuition increases, faculty hiring and co-op scheduling.
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney was joined on the dais for the 90-minute question-and-answer session by Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Joanne Yestramski, Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Larry Siegel, Director of Campus Planning and Development Adam Baacke and Peter Brigham, assistant director of planning, urban design and transportation.
“It’s important to me to have this conversation with you,” Moloney told the students. “I’m so impressed by how engaged you all are and how passionate you are about this university.”
SGA President James Christopher, who moderated the Q&A, said the event was a good opportunity for students to understand how and why administrative decisions are made, particularly when it comes to the campus master plan and 2020 Strategic Plan.
“As the university keeps making these improvements, it’s important that students are fully aware of how these changes affect them and the student experience,” Christopher said.
Moloney began by going over highlights of the master plan, noting the addition of 13 new buildings on campus (including the soon-to-be-completed Pulichino Tong Business Center) over the past nine years and the $600 million spent on infrastructure improvements. As the university looks to grow enrollment from its current 17,500 students to 20,000 by 2020, Moloney emphasized the need to improve amenities and accessibility while also keeping up with deferred maintenance and sustainability goals.
“We have one of the oldest campuses in the state system, and many of our old buildings have not been brought up to speed,” she said. “With deferred maintenance, we’ve really had to go in and do the hard work first before we could get to the amenities like the South Campus mall and the new quad on North Campus.”
Some of the projects Moloney highlighted included:
- Construction of the new Aiken Fields complex on East Campus, which is scheduled to open next fall and will feature two turf playing fields and two tennis courts. Demolition is currently underway on the site of the former A.H. Notini & Sons warehouse. “My heart was racing when I saw the crane there,” Moloney says. “We’ve been working on purchasing that property for six years, and now we’re finally going to get the recreation fields you all deserve.”
- The university’s acquisition of the Perkins Properties on East Campus, which will be made available as student housing next fall. The complex will add 650 beds in a variety of housing options (dorm, apartment and loft) and help the university support its projected enrollment growth.
- The renovation and renewal of Perry Hall on North Campus. The $42 million project, which is currently in the design phase, is scheduled to get underway next July and be completed in late fall 2018. “It will be gutted from top to bottom,” said Moloney, who noted that engineering faculty will be moved to renovated space in Pasteur Hall once the Manning School of Business moves to the new Pulichino Tong Business Center this spring.
- The anticipated addition of a “pod” to the back of Coburn Hall (similar to the one just opened at Southwick Hall), which will address the building’s accessibility compliance challenges and enable future renovation work.
Some of the questions addressed by the panel included:
Q. What’s being done to improve the safety of foot traffic on streets? Will there be new lights on East Campus?
A. Baacke: “We’ve been working with the city on a number of initiatives around that objective, particularly making the Pawtucket Street corridor more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. As we address the canal bridges, we want to greatly improve pedestrian traffic along the bridge between East and North campus, which is in design now. We are also working to improve lighting in front of Fox Hall, and there will be lighting with the Aiken Street recreation fields as well.”
Q. Are there plans to expand the Campus Recreation Center, which is over capacity during certain hours?
A. Siegel: “We have begun to talk about expansion of the Campus Rec Center in the next three to five years. We have also added a smaller fitness center at Riverview Suites on South Campus, which took some of the congestion from East Campus. Campus Recreation said one of its greatest needs was field space for the nearly 1,000 students in sports clubs and 3,000 in intramurals. So the Aiken Street complex will give us beautiful recreation fields with lights and a scoreboard and tennis courts, which we believe can be flooded in the winter to create an outdoor ice rink for students.”
Q. What are the plans for Concordia Hall?
A. Siegel: “Concordia has a very deep history. It’s the first residence hall built for Lowell State College, and it’s our oldest residence hall. It houses a good number of people. We had been going back and forth about what to do with the building — it was staying, it was going, it was becoming offices — but it’s back on the map to receive some love over the next couple of years. With all the recent growth on South Campus, Concordia is high on the list.”
Q. With the incredible expansion recently, is there concern that “growth for growth’s sake” could impinge on the student experience?
A. Moloney: “That’s a really good question. When we developed our 2020 Strategic Plan back in 2010, we asked, ‘What kind of university do we want to be?’ We are committed to growing in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which makes your degree more valuable. We are the second-fastest rising university in the country, and we are meeting our goals. And size is important; we cannot be considered a powerhouse school with 11,000 students. We settled on 20,000 as a goal because we know we can do it and not compromise the student experience. We are definitely not growing for growth’s sake; this has been strategically thought out.”