LOWELL -- The nanotechnology manufacturing research center planned for the University of Massachusetts Lowell is a step closer to reality, as university officials and local legislators yesterday launched a site selection study for the project.
The $80 million project is to be "a catalyst for a larger economic development initiative," said Diana Prideaux-Brune, the university's vice chancellor for facilities.
Officials also hope the center, which is expected to create from 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs in the next decade, will attract major nano- and biomanufacturers to Greater Lowell.
"I believe this center will be important for the technological and economical development not only of Lowell, but the whole region," U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan said yesterday. "I'm excited about it."
Three sites in Lowell and a fourth just across the border in Chelmsford will be considered as potential homes for the center: a parcel across from LeLacheur Park at Aiken and Perkins streets; the Hamilton Canal District; a campus parking area off Riverside Street; and a university property off Princeton Street in Chelmsford.
The Hamilton Canal District is the only property among the four that is not owned by the university. It is nevertheless a viable option, officials said.
"(The center) is really not only going to be an academic building. It's a partnership between the university and private industry," said state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos. "And the Hamilton Canal District has the potential of further development by manufacturers."
The project will be funded by the university, the state and at the federal level. Gov. Mitt Romney had previously provided $21 million for the project. An additional $14 million will be borrowed by the state, Panagiotakos said. UMass Lowell, in turn, plans to take out an additional $35 million in bonds.
Meehan has pledged to get the remaining $10 million through the federal budgeting process. He said he has already included $2 million for the center in the federal defense budget.
"I want to ensure that the federal government plays a role in this because it is so important," said Meehan, a Lowell Democrat.
Officials are hoping for a 2010 completion date. The project's design is to be put up for bid as early as next month.
"It's an ambitious schedule, but I think we will be able to do it," Panagiotakos said.
Nanotechnology is the science that finds applications for materials and devices whose primary components are one-billionth of a meter in size. Both nanotechnology and biotechnology are used to improve existing products and develop new ones.
Prideaux-Brune said the center would not focus on finding new nano components, but rather developing ways to mass-produce them.
"It is not really about concentrating on the new nano-particles. We will let MIT do that," she said. "We will teach the world to make a million of them."