Lowell Green Community Partnership Supports University-City Collaborations
By Ed Brennen
The Lowell Energy Efficiency Acceleration Program was one of five projects that recently received a share of $50,000 in grants from the Lowell Green Community Partnership, an alliance between the university and the city to provide leadership, resources and expertise for sustainability initiatives throughout greater Lowell.
Other grant recipients included a composting pilot program, a project to install new solar-powered street lights on campus, and enhanced sustainability education programs in the Lowell Public Schools.
Launched in January 2020, the Lowell Green Community Partnership is led by UML Chancellor Jacquie Moloney and Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue. The partnership’s Green Community Commission includes more than two dozen leaders from business, community and environmental organizations and is co-chaired by philanthropist Nancy Donahue, whose $25,000 donation to the university helped fund the grant program.
“As a leader in sustainability efforts in higher education, UMass Lowell is proud to partner with the city to increase sustainability in our region,” Moloney says. “The awarding of the first round of grants in our community is an important step toward achieving our shared goal.”
Each project, which had to include team members from both the university and an organization based in Lowell, received $10,000 in funding. Projects had to meet the sustainability goals of UMass Lowell’s 2020 Strategic Plan and the city’s comprehensive master plan, Sustainable Lowell 2025.
Close to 20 projects applied for funding. The winning projects, as chosen by members of the Green Community Commission, are:
Composting Pilot Program: In partnership with the university, the nonprofit Mill City Grows will create a compost hub at its urban farm site in the Pawtucketville neighborhood. Organic waste from Mill City Grows’ urban farm sites, including the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and community and school gardens, will be brought to the hub to produce high-quality compost. The site will offer hands-on education opportunities and volunteer opportunities.
Northern Canal Overlook Solar Street Lighting: A joint effort between UMass Lowell, the city and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, this will fund the installation of a series of solar-powered street lights at the recently constructed Northern Canal Overlook, a small park at the corner of Pawtucket Street and University Avenue that does not have a direct power source. During regular campus operations, this area has the heaviest volume of pedestrian activity in the city, with more than 7,000 people passing through each day.
Sustainability Pathway at Lowell High School: Lowell High School and UMass Lowell will work together to evolve a current pathway focused on the environment into the Sustainability Pathway at Lowell High School, to offer students a range of educational opportunities focused on creating a sustainable city.
UMass Lowell Green Schools Program: The Lowell Public Schools and UMass Lowell will work together to identify a partner K-8 school in Lowell and develop a unique set of programs and projects that will serve as the pilot location for a city-wide Green School program. The pilot school will be formally designated as a UMass Lowell Green School and receive the UMass Lowell Green School flag to fly at their school.
Lowell Energy Efficiency Acceleration Program: Led by partners Community Teamwork and UMass Lowell, the project aims to reduce energy consumption and promote the financial stability and health of homeowners in Lowell. The program will provide hands-on training and employment opportunities for UMass Lowell students to develop a “green-collar” workforce in the city.
Mill City Grows Executive Director Jessica Wilson says the composting pilot program grant will help the organization strengthen its Urban Agriculture Program with UMass Lowell and close the loop on plant waste.
“We are so grateful for this funding to move our composting program to the next level. This will increase our ability to sequester carbon, eliminate waste from landfills and create a nutrient-dense compost to use in our urban farming work,” Wilson says. “It’s so exciting that we'll be able to make our urban soil healthier just by using the waste we are already generating.”
Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony, who is the team lead on the UMass Lowell Green Schools Program, says it’s an opportunity to develop an innovative model for producing “informed sustainability citizens” across the community.
“By working with and educating children in the public schools, we will have an opportunity to provide a solid grounding in sustainable practices rooted in the city of Lowell that will be of immediate — and long-term — benefit to students and their families,” he says.
Donoghue, the city manager, says the chosen projects “reflect the innovative thinking that is necessary” to advance the community’s sustainability goals.
“Confronting the challenges that we face related to climate change calls for bold action and creative solutions,” she says.
The grant program was also funded by matching donations from community partners Align Credit Union, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, Lowell Plan, Lowell National Historical Park and Mill City Environmental.