By Ed Brennen
Gazing out a brand-new window of the renovated building bearing his name, an old feeling suddenly came back to Barry Perry ’68, ’15 (H).
“I remember being so intimidated by those buildings as a freshman,” said Perry, pointing toward Kitson and Cumnock halls.
As a plastics engineering major at Lowell Tech a half-century ago, Perry ended up getting to know the cluster of buildings along University Avenue very well.
“This was the entire campus when I was here. This was my life,” he said. “We’d come to class and walk through the tunnels, living like cave-dwellers. I remember walking through where the textile equipment was set up. You could feel the humidity on your ears.”
Moments earlier, Perry had helped the university cut the ribbon on the grand reopening of Perry Hall, which had been closed for over 18 months to undergo a $50 million renovation. Perry, a longtime supporter of research, academics and scholarships at UML, helped set the work in motion with a $1.25 million gift in 2012.
More than 200 guests, including UMass President Marty Meehan and UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Manning, packed the building’s redesigned main entrance for the sun-splashed ribbon-cutting ceremony, which drew a host of industry partners, alumni and state and local officials.
“Perry Hall has been transformed into a cutting-edge, modern facility that will be used to advance important research by our faculty, enhance the educational experience of our students and strengthen our ties with industry across the state,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said in thanking the donors and industry partners who made the rejuvenated building possible.
Meehan praised Moloney for embracing the renovation and seeing it to its completion in spite of a freeze in state funding that nearly derailed the project.
“We have a history here, a culture in Lowell, that’s critically important,” Meehan said. “To see this project unfold is just unbelievable.”
Originally known as the Engineering Building when it opened in 1952, Perry Hall has long been a hub of innovation and industry in Lowell. The building had become dated, however, and a fire in 2012 forced the closure of the fourth floor.
The renovation work included a total reconstruction of the interior of the building’s existing 47,825 square feet, plus the addition of 5,600 square feet on the fourth floor, which now connects to Ball Hall. The project was conducted in partnership with the UMass Building Authority and managed by STV. The architect was Perkins + Will, and the contractor was Suffolk Construction.
The building features state-of-the-art labs for teaching and research in biomedical, chemical and environmental engineering, biomanufacturing and clean energy, as well as space to support expanding industry partnerships. On the first floor, there’s already the Larry Acquarulo ’81 and Foster Corporation BioMedical Engineering Teaching Lab and the Rick Pierro ’83 and Superior Controls Chemical Engineering Unit OPS Teaching Lab.
A $5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) supports work on the third floor, which is home to the Massachusetts BioManufacturing Center and the BioMedical Engineering Research Lab.
“With this investment, the center and UMass Lowell embrace a critical global role in educating a workforce with the skills, research capabilities and industry experiences to bring the next generation of therapies and medical technologies to market,” said MLSC President and CEO Travis McCready, whose organization also supports the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) and student scholarships and internships.
The Mass. BioManufacturing Center received a $1 million donation in equipment from LEWA, a metering and process pump supplier whose COO is alum Mark Dyment ’87.
Joseph Hartman, dean of the Francis College of Engineering, said the modernized facility will greatly enhance the school’s recently launched programs in biomedical and environmental engineering. The fourth-floor Alternative Energy Research Lab will allow faculty and students to work on clean-energy initiatives like solar, wind, biofuels and energy storage.
“The growth of our college over the years has been dramatic, and it has been enabled by projects like this,” Hartman said. “We look forward to even further growth.”
Guests, who also included UMass Trustee Mary Burns, Lowell Mayor William Samaras and state Rep. Tom Golden, were able to tour the facility following the ribbon cutting. In the chemical engineering teaching lab, doctoral student Eddie Fratto demonstrated the equipment and software that will enable students to analyze different aspects of material transfer.
“What’s really exciting about this lab is the software for characterization, which is a lot more advanced now,” said Fratto, a teaching assistant in the lab. “We get all the data readouts directly from the computer. That means students can run all sorts of experiments much more efficiently.”
Fratto, a Winchester native who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the school in 2015, added that the new second-floor research lab is ideal for his work in chemical synthesis and nanomaterial characterization.
“It’s a big change,” he said. “I have a ton of space to spread out on the bench tops. We have lots of room for all our chemicals.”
Standing outside the chemical engineering teaching lab with his wife Janice and daughter Kristen, Perry smiled as he watched guests explore the renovated building.
“This isn’t the kind of opportunity that we had,” said Perry, a Dartmouth native who began his career at General Electric before becoming chairman and chief executive officer of New Jersey-based Engelhard Corp., a chemical and metals company. In 2005, he established the Barry W. Perry Plastics Engineering Endowment Fund for student scholarships. “It’s a great honor for our family to give this type of opportunity to students.”