By From the Lowell Sun
By Matt Murphy
BOSTON -- More than $100 million in state funding will be headed back to Lowell to make much needed upgrades to buildings on the UMass Lowell campus and help push along construction of a new performing-arts center and classrooms at Middlesex Community College.
The House late Tuesday night signed off on a $2.2 billion bond bill that will mark the first significant state investment in the infrastructure of state colleges and universities since 1995.
The 10-year borrowing plan includes money for projects on every state campus in the commonwealth, including $1 billion for the UMass and $1.1 billion for state and community colleges.
Middlesex Community College is counting on more than $21 million to expand its downtown Lowell campus with much-needed classroom space and a new performing-arts center at the old Rialto Theater building on Central Street.
The community college is also looking at three other properties in downtown Lowell to expand and build more classrooms to accommodate more students, some of whom travel to Bedford for classes.
The Bedford campus will also be getting $24 million to expand and renovate existing academic buildings.
"It's extremely important," said MCC President Carole Cowan. "It's one of these bills that only happens every one or two decades and really sets the stage for the future of the college. "It's an opportunity for us to deal with the increased numbers coming to the college. It will be a chance for us to really
be sure the college is in a good place for the next decade."
State Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, House chairman of the Committee on Higher Education, worked hard, along with the entire delegation, to usher the bill through the Legislature.
"Our public higher-education institutions are the linchpin of our state's ongoing effort to ensure that the benefits of economic development extend to all citizens of the Commonwealth," Murphy said. "We must provide the support they need to be successful in that effort."
UMass Lowell will also benefit significantly from the spending plan.
The bill includes earmarks to fund $26 million for a new $40 million academic building on South Campus; $10 million to modernize the north quad; $4 million for the new medical-device program; $5 million for deferred maintenance on the M2D2 building at the site of the Institute of Plastics Innovations; $10 million for civic and athletic facilities; $1.5 million for storm-water management; and $2.5 million for renovations to Olney Hall on North Campus.
"This is obviously historic, landmark legislation," said Chancellor Marty Meehan. "The fact is, we haven't built a new academic building in more than 30 years and this investment has to be made if we are to make UMass Lowell, or any of the state's public universities, world-class institutions."
Both Meehan and Cowan praised Sen. Steve Panagiotakos and Reps. Murphy, David Nangle and Thomas Golden for their advocacy for the city, UMass Lowell and MCC.
Meehan said the university is in the planning stages for a new academic building on South Campus, but hopes both that building and construction on the new emerging technology center on North Campus could happen simultaneously.
He said he hopes to use the $10 million for civic and athletic facilities to improve the South Campus where students don't have easy access to the North Campus gymnasium or new recreation center near LeLacheur Park. One idea is to use open land near the South Campus softball field for an all-purpose athletic field with turf, the chancellor said.
"There isn't even a facility for a student to take a shower on the South Campus. That's unconscionable," Meehan said.