Bill would bring $150M to UMass Lowell, MCC

01/10/2007
By From the Lowell Sun

By HILLARY CHABOT, Sun Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos plans to file sweeping legislation today that could change the face of downtown Lowell and fund the renovation of both Middlesex Community College and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Middlesex Community College, which could net $42 million from the legislation, hopes to build a new building for additional classrooms in downtown Lowell and buy and renovate two additional downtown buildings.

One of those renovated buildings would be used to expand MCC's performing-arts program.

"This would be, hands down, one of the most dramatic changes we have witnessed in 16 years," said MCC spokesman Patrick Cook, who added that the Lowell campus desperately needs the space. "We're bursting at the seams, and we need more classrooms."

MCC President Carole Cowan said the money would be the largest influx from the state since the 1980s.

Panagiotakos is asking the state for a total of $2.643 billion to repair crumbling colleges and universities across the state. The updated laboratories and facilities, Panagiotakos argues, will allow schools to spend more money on their students.

"Our future economic success is in many ways tied to higher education and the skills students learn there," Panagiotakos said. "I think we'd better invest in them."

The higher-education bond bill would also allocate $108.7 million to UMass Lowell to help with a $266 million reconstruction plan meant to establish the region as a hub of high-tech manufacturing. The bill would include:

* $12.9 million to renovate Mahoney Hall.

* $5.25 million to update labs the UML North Quad.

* $1.25 million to build the new center for green chemistry, called the IPI building.

* $5 million to update North Campus' electrical infrastructure.

The funding is vital to continue the university's reconstruction plan, said Diana Prideaux-Brune, UML's vice chancellor of facilities.

"It's absolutely essential," she said. "This kind of capital bill makes it possible for us to stay on the cutting edge."

The capital needs were outlined in a report released by the Senate task force on public higher education last year. Panagiotakos believes Gov. Deval Patrick will be open to the bill, citing a report from Patrick's higher-education working group that details a similar proposal.

"I think we're going to have a governor who cooperates," Panagiotakos said. "He might not accept a bill for the entire $2.6 billion, but we feel that's what the need is."

Patrick will review all legislation coming before him, said spokeswoman Cyndi Roy.

The bill signals another concerted effort to bring a hefty chunk of state funding to public higher education.

Panagiotakos and state Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, worked on a separate bill last year that would increase the state's higher-education spending by $400 million. The bill foundered in committee, but Murphy plans to refile a compromised version today that would ask for the money in addition to Panagiotakos' bond bill.