By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By SUSAN McMAHON
LOWELL Mere seconds after the last speech of the opening ceremony was finished, students poured into the new UMass Lowell Campus Recreation Center, grabbing pingpong paddles and pool cues, walking the basketball courts and the elevated track.
It didn't take long for students to take over the facility, and, at first glance, they liked what they saw.
'It's pretty overwhelming,' said junior Rob Sampson, who was part of a student relay team delivering the symbolic key to the opening ceremony. 'I never saw the inside before, but it's very impressive.'
The brick-and-glass structure, which officially opened its doors to students, faculty and staff yesterday, is the culmination of 12 years of funding debates, groundbreaking ceremonies and architectural plans.
And to the politicians who worked to secure the money for the $19.5 million building and the UMass officials who saw the construction through, it was worth all the effort.
'It is much more than a building,' said UMass Lowell Chancellor William Hogan. 'For the Lowell campus, it's a major milestone.'
Yesterday's opening ceremonies drew an audience of politicians, faculty, staff and students. A bevy of dignitaries including Democrats Marty Meehan, a U.S. representative from Lowell, state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, state representatives Thomas Golden of Lowell and Colleen Garry of Dracut, UMass President William Bulger, Board of Trustees Chairman Grace Fey and Lowell Mayor Rita Mercier sat on the stage, each offering congratulations to all those who put time and effort into the project.
Two students stood listening during the speeches, racquetball equipment in hand, waiting for the word to go in.
Finally, with the arrival of six relay runners, that word came in the form of a giant golden key. Students walked in to explore the building, test the equipment and enjoy their first day back at school in the newest building on campus.
UMass officials have called the center the heartbeat of the university, drawing together the student population at a central location.
For students, it's the fulfillment of years of waiting for that little part of the campus that could serve as a gathering spot for everyone.
'There's always been this sense of a need, a need for a spark. And that's what this building is,' said Student Government Association President John Harrison.
Overlooking LeLacheur Park, with the Tsongas Arena a short walk away, both built in partnership with UMass Lowell, the campus center is the newest addition to a high-profile section of the city.
During yesterday's ceremony, many politicians and UMass supporters called attention to the joint projects as part of the reason behind the success Lowell has seen in recent years.
'I think we learned that the city of Lowell will proceed and succeed as the University of Massachusetts at Lowell proceeds and succeeds,' Panagiotakos said.
Susan McMahon's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .