By From the Lowell Sun
By Rachel R. Briere
LOWELL -- The hotel soap, travel size shampoo and neutral linens are long gone. In their place -- futons, mini fridges and bright neon pink comforters.
About 400 students checked into their new digs yesterday afternoon at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center, formerly the DoubleTree Hotel. Car trunks bursting with cardboard boxes and coeds wearing smiles flooded Warren Street as the college welcomed its first residents to the newly acquired dorm.
The university purchased the 252-room property this summer from the Procaccianti Group of Rhode Island for $15 million. Instead of tourists, the building will now be the home of upper-class, honors and foreign students. However, when the students are on summer break the facility will be used as a hotel.
There was no vacancy on the nine floors as of yesterday. Larry Siegel, dean of student life, said there were more than 100 students left on a waiting list to get in the rooms who couldn't be accommodated at the hotel, but were placed in other UMass housing.
Although the rooms will now be dorms, all the perks of a hotel have not vanished.
"We've been talking about offering room service to the students upstairs," said Olan Horne, the food-service director at UMass Lowell.
The lounge off the lobby on the first floor has been transformed into a residential dining hall complete with a salad bar, buffet and grill. It will be open from 7 a.m. till 1 a.m. and is a dining option for the entire campus.
Graduate student Tina Boyd is in her fifth year as a civil environmental engineer major, but has ventured into downtown Lowell "maybe once." The Dracut native is the assistant complex director at the Inn and Conference Center and is elated to call it her home for the next two semesters.
"I absolutely love it, everything is right at my doorstep. I can bike to class. I can go right outside and there are stores -- no more Wal-Mart," she laughed. "And the views are beautiful. I look out at the canals and see all the architecture. It's the best."
Like Boyd, who turned down an option to live on North Campus, every student residing in the building requested to live there. Double beds, new furniture, air conditioning and private bathrooms were just some of the added benefits of living in this particular dorm. Roommates Danielle Gemme, 19, and Samantha O'Connor, 19, both lived on East Campus last semester and said it can't compare.
"Just having your own bathroom is huge," said O'Connor, of Worcester.
Amy Osgood, of Lowell, graduated from the university this past spring. She was helping her friend Molly Bigley move in yesterday.
"I'm a veteran of the regular dorms -- no A.C.," she joked. "And I am jealous."
James Kohl, director of residential life, said his staff has been encouraging the students to get out and enjoy the city now that they are in the heart of it. A scavenger hunt is planned for today, which will consist of stops in businesses downtown.
"There is definitely a pulse," he said. "Parents are joking about having a room at the Ritz and students are very excited to move in this semester. We never have 100 percent move in the first day. Today we do."
Mayor Edward "Bud" Caulfield welcomed the students and their parents with UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.
"Finally this wonderful complex will be utilized to its full potential," Caulfield said. "This plays a vital role in the city and we are fortunate to have the students downtown instead of in Nashua."
Meehan said he hopes the hotel will help make the downtown more of a part of students' lives. "I want to see a day when every student takes a National Park tour," he said.
The DoubleTree acquisition will allow UMass Lowell to alleviate some of its student housing crunch. This past school year, the university was forced to house nearly 400 students in the Radisson Hotel in Nashua.
Siegel confirmed that there was no waiting list to get into the Radisson.
Sun staffer Robert Mills contributed to this report.