Office Moves, Building Upgrades Keep Facilities Management Busy over Summer
By Ed Brennen
It’s been a summer of change at UMass Lowell, starting at the top with new Chancellor Julie Chen.
Across campus, familiar programs like the Honors College and Economics Department relocated to new offices, while newer programs like the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy and Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement settled into spaces of their own.
Beyond the moves, Facilities Management completed scores of projects this summer, from renovating and refreshing research and teaching labs to improving plumbing, electrical and HVAC infrastructure.
And, building on efforts to give River Hawks more outdoor amenities to enjoy while the weather is nice, the university added more Adirondack and lounge chairs across campus. Several more solar-powered umbrellas have also popped up at outdoor tables so students can charge their phones and laptops while enjoying some fresh air.
With enrollment eclipsing 2,000 students for the second consecutive year, the Honors College outgrew its space on the third floor of O’Leary Library and can now be found at Allen House — one of the most prominent and picturesque locations on campus. The building, which was built in 1854, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s important to have an Honors College that's visible, that shows the commitment that UMass Lowell has to high-achieving students,” says new Dean Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, whose office will host a formal ribbon-cutting with Chancellor Chen on Sept. 9. “We’re really excited to get faculty and students here. I want the Allen House to really become a hub for interdisciplinary research and collaboration.”
Founded in 2019 to fuse the efforts of the Office of Sustainability, the Climate Change Initiative and the Center for Energy Innovation, the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE) has a new home at 820 Broadway, across Wilder Street from Coburn Hall.
Formerly occupied by the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the 19th-century Victorian gives RISE a home base where it can showcase its efforts, according to Executive Director Ruairi O’Mahony. There are plans for energy-efficiency improvements such as the installation of heat pumps, as well as the creation of a garden and outdoor classroom in a vacant lot next door.
Being located in a community like Lowell’s Acre neighborhood, which faces environmental and socioeconomic disparities, is also important, O’Mahony says.
“We’re starting to get a lot more funding on the research side for environmental justice work,” he says. “So having this be the standout location for what can be possible from the perspective of community engagement, it’s exciting.”
The building is also the new home of the Center for Program Evaluation, formerly located at O’Leary.
The Economics Department, meanwhile, has relocated from Falmouth Hall on North Campus to the third and fourth floors of the Health and Social Sciences (HSS) Building on South Campus. The Public Health Lab is moving from HSS to the fifth floor of O’Leary, while the Biomedical Engineering Department is taking over the former economics space at Falmouth 302.
The new Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement (AACEE) moved into the second floor of Cumnock Hall. Supported by a five-year, nearly $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, AACEE offers peer mentoring to a cohort of around 100 Asian American first-year and transfer students, providing them help with financial aid, wellness and academics.
“We can more directly serve students here,” she says. “We’re excited to be in the middle of it all.”
At Ball Hall, a makerspace for electrical and computer engineering students is taking shape in 402, with work expected to be finished by late October. The graduate student hub that formerly occupied the space is moving to Ball 315. The plastics engineering student lounge in Ball 212, meanwhile, is getting fresh carpeting, paint and new lighting and is expected to be ready by early November.
Across Riverside Street at Olsen Hall, a major $20 million infrastructure improvement will continue through next year, with the science building getting new ventilation, water systems and more. Meantime, the elevator lobbies on the fourth and fifth floors have been refreshed.
At Southwick Hall, construction of the new Lowell Advanced Robotics Initiative (LARI) laboratory is on target to be completed by the end of the semester. Located on the fourth floor, the 3,700-square-foot lab will support the university’s growing interdisciplinary robotics program, engaging students in computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and other STEM-related disciplines in robotics research and development. With an open floor plan and high ceilings, the flexible space will feature work zones and testing areas — equipped with motion-capture technologies — for both drones and ambulatory robots.
At the Cushing Field Complex, the green artificial turf used by the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse teams was replaced.
The artificial turf outside the Campus Recreation Center — a popular spot for tossing a Frisbee, playing cornhole or taking an outdoor yoga class — was replaced with brand-new turf. The patio area outside the center was also redesigned, with sections of a brick dividing wall removed to create a more open connection to the turf field. Adirondack chairs, picnic tables and outdoor table tennis tables make it an ideal spot for students to unwind.
Just down the Northern Canal at the Wannalancit Business Center, several divisions of Administrative Services that were previously scattered across campus are now together on the second floor: Hospitality and Event Services (previously at Allen House); Life Safety and Emergency Management (previously at University Crossing 140) and Environmental Health and Safety (previously on the fourth floor at Wannalancit).
The University Crossing space vacated by Administrative Services will soon become a new faculty development center for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT); that work is slated to be done in early November.