While You Were Out: A Look at Campus Improvements During Pandemic

Students move on to campus as green, red and yellow Adirondack chairs sit in the foreground Image by Ed Brennen
Students moving back to UML will notice colorful new Adirondack chairs scattered across campus, giving them more places to relax and study outside.

By Ed Brennen

Students returning to campus for the first time in 18 months will notice some changes, both big and small, to their surroundings this fall.

While most academic buildings and residence halls have been dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic, UML’s Facilities Management department has been busy improving the campus throughout the shutdown in anticipation of a return to full in-person learning.

“We are excited to welcome everyone back to campus,” says Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management and Planning Jean Robinson. “Our team is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for everyone, and we look forward to the energy and buzz of excitement that comes from having a full and vibrant campus.”

Maximizing the effectiveness of building ventilation systems has been a top priority for the university during the pandemic, but Robinson notes that much has been done in other areas to enhance the living and learning experience for students.

A view of the GPS Center from outside Image by Ed Brennen
The new Global and Professional Studies Center is where students can now find Residence Life, Study Abroad and the International Students and Scholars Office.

One obvious example is the campuswide addition of outdoor amenities such as hammocks, Adirondack chairs and patio heaters. With the pandemic highlighting the need to maximize time outdoors, Senior Campus Planner Sara Cassidy Smith says it makes sense to give students more ways to relax and study outside, like at picnic tables equipped with new solar-powered charging stations.

For those who get around campus by bicycle, new covered bike racks were installed on North and South campuses — two in the Southwick Quad and two outside O’Leary Library.

The biggest addition to campus is the new Global and Professional Studies Center, located at 839 Merrimack St. — across from the River Hawk Shop at University Crossing. Opened last fall, this is where students will now find the offices for Residence Life, Study Abroad, the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO), Navitas Global Student Success Program, Graduate Admissions, and Graduate, Online and Professional Studies (GPS).

Students who walk between East and North campuses each day will find the stroll a little easier thanks to the new Northern Canal overlook. Completed last summer, the small plaza at the foot of the Howe Bridge greatly improves the flow of foot traffic at the corner of Merrimack and Pawtucket streets. Solar-powered lighting is scheduled to be installed along the pathway later this semester.

Three students walk on a path toward covered bicycle racks Image by Ed Brennen
New covered bike racks have been installed outside O'Leary Library on South Campus, as well as inside the Southwick quad on North Campus.

Here’s a look at other projects around campus:

North Campus

The parking lot between Perry and Pinanski halls has been completely redone, with additional parking spaces, improved crosswalks and new landscaping. “A former service area that looked like an afterthought has been transformed to a much more appealing and friendly location,” says Adam Baacke, executive director of planning, design and construction.

Improvements are also coming to the Riverside parking lot on North Campus, where 60 new lights are being installed this fall as part of a $1.6 million project.

An elevated view of the refinished parking area on North Campus Image by Ed Brennen
The parking area between Perry and Pinanski halls on North Campus was totally redone during the pandemic.

Kitson Hall, which in October will be renamed Shah Hall in honor of engineering alumnus Bhupen Shah ’92 and his wife, Ramika, has a new study lounge and collaboration space for students on the third floor. Several of the building’s classrooms, hallways and stairwells have also been refreshed.

At Southwick Hall, the Math Department has moved to new offices on the third floor and the Chemical Engineering Department is now located on the second floor.

The university has made improvements to more than a dozen research labs and nearly three dozen instructional labs across campus during the pandemic. In the instructional chemistry labs on the second floor of Olney Hall, benchtops were replaced or refinished, plumbing fixtures were replaced and electrical outlets were updated. Similar improvements were made to the instructional physics labs on the first floor. “Instructional labs were a priority, since so many students use them,” says Assoc. Director of Capital Projects Leanne Peters.

Chairs, tables and refrigerators in the new team lounges at Costello Athletic Center Image by BIA.studio
The UML men's and women's basketball teams have a new lounge at Costello Athletic Center.

At Olsen Hall, work continues apace on $10 million in infrastructure improvements, including a new air handling unit, an upgrade to the air conditioning system and roof repairs.

At the Costello Athletic Center, a gymnasium was transformed into office suites for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Athletic Department administrative offices, a new film room with tiered seating for 55 people, and a new student-athlete lounge. Both teams’ locker rooms were also renovated.

The track and field facility at Cushing Field Complex also underwent a $1.4 million renovation, including a refinished polyurethane surface, upgrades to the jumping areas, and new hurdles, netting and fencing.

South Campus

One of the first things students will notice on South Campus is a repaved front plaza outside O’Leary Library and McGauvran Center along Wilder Street. The plaza on the north side of Weed Hall was also repaved.

Two people walk on the repaved entry plaza on South Campus Image by Ed Brennen
The entrance to South Campus from Wilder Street has been repaved.

At O’Leary, a new rooftop garden is now in full bloom on the previously unused patio space outside the mezzanine study and event space. On the fifth floor, the River Hawk Scholars Academy has new offices and study space for students.

At the Health and Social Sciences Building, a new Health Sciences Hub is opening this fall. Located on the first floor, the Hub is where Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences students can go for advising and tutoring. There is also space for teaching assistants and faculty to hold office hours and exam review sessions, and meeting rooms for student study groups and clubs.

Coburn Hall, which reopened just before the pandemic after undergoing a $47 million renovation and restoration, features 12 new technology-enhanced classrooms – nine on the lower level and three on the first floor. The School of Education now occupies the building’s first and second floors, and the Psychology Department has moved to the third floor.

At Mahoney Hall next door, the student gallery space was expanded and new track lighting was installed. And at Riverview Suites, several classrooms have been converted to physical therapy teaching labs.

Couches and chairs in the River Hawk Scholars Academy suite at O'Leary Library Image by Ed Brennen
Students in the River Hawk Scholars Academy have a new lounge to enjoy on the fifth floor of O'Leary Library.

Improvements have also been made to several residence halls across campus, including the installation of a $2 million fire protection system at Concordia Hall and new WiFi-enabled door locks for 149 rooms at Bourgeois Hall.

With UML reopening at full capacity this fall, Peters says the Facilities Management team looks forward to taking on projects in older buildings that have been put on the back burner during the pandemic.

“The past year has been tough on everyone,” she says. “But we’re excited about the future.”