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|The Future's so Bright
A new era dawns for UMass Amherst
“WHAT YOU SEE WALKING IS different from what you see driving,” says Chancellor John Lombardi as he pushes open the door of the Whitmore building and steps into the sunlight of a radiant June morning.
||From left to right: Provost Charlena Seymour; John Dubach, chief information officer; Chancellor John V. Lombardi; John McCutcheon, athletic director; Joyce Hatch, vice chancellor of adminstration and finance; Michael Gargano, vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life; and Elizabeth Dale, vice chancellor of advancement. (photos by Ben Barnhart)
“You see more—students, faculty, grounds workers, people doing what they do,” he continues emphatically, his pace brisk as he heads down Haigis Mall. “You see that we connect in classrooms and courtyards, parking lots and residence halls, and the campus is an organic enterprise. Every activity on campus is important in itself and to the organic whole.”
With his white hair and square black glasses, the chancellor is instantly recognizable as he walks to meetings, to his history classroom, to simply see what’s going on. His habit of walking the campus daily is one of the qualities that has made him a popular—some say galvanizing—leader of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Likewise, the physical campus isn’t separate from the engine of the university, the teaching and research,” he goes on while also exchanging hellos with passing students and staff. “Some people see teaching as separate from the facilities and think it can be done regardless of conditions. What, are we going to have scientists teaching in tents? The programs and the physical campus are the same.”
Pausing, the chancellor gestures at the cracks underfoot in the asphalt walkway. “Now this drives me to distraction.” He sees the beautification of the campus as a metaphor for the transformational changes now happening at UMass Amherst. “First we did the edges. You have to watch the edges, because if they’re done right, you’re probably doing a good job with everything else.”
It’s been almost two years since Lombardi arrived at Amherst and, before the handshakes were over, learned the state was cutting $41 million from the campus budget. As is widely known, he responded by establishing performance standards across campus, cutting some programs, moving others to a mostly self-supporting basis, raising student fees, and using the commonwealth’s early-retirement incentive program to revitalize the faculty.
That the campus has seen its sponsored research increase five percent yearly, is constantly in the national press for its innovative scholarship, and has breathtakingly positioned itself on the horizons of research in nanotechnology and emerging fields in the life sciences says a lot about the chancellor’s argument that he places nothing above teaching and research.
A well-worn campus is no longer an acceptable campus, Chancellor Lombardi has declared. Repairs and renovations that have been put off for decades can wait no longer. This spring he announced a five-year, $540 million plan for capital projects—including new residence halls and three new academic buildings—and began plans for a landmark fundraising campaign for UMass Amherst.
First, More Students
Chancellor Lombardi talks with relish of what are in some ways the most important buildings in the five-year plan: new residences for students. Pressed for a number, he says he considers about 30,000 the ideal student population. Right now, at about 24,000 students, “we’re too big to be small, and too small to be big.”
Slated to open in fall 2007, the new residences will be situated on the wooded ridge between the Sylvan and Orchard Hill dorms. The architect hasn’t been selected yet, but Michael Gargano, vice chancellor of students affairs and campus life, would like a safe, well-lit community of low-rise apartments or suites. There’ll be 1,500 beds, common areas for pool tables and recreation, storage places for sports equipment, walking paths, and “other amenities that students and families expect now,” says Gargano.
“We’re adding an average of 300 students a year for the next five years,” Gargano notes. The proportion of out-of-state students will increase from 25 to about 30 percent to capitalize on a recent change in legislation that temporarily allows the campus to keep out-of-state tuition without changing access to the campus for Massachusetts students.
Passionate about the need for a vibrant student life, Lombardi made Gargano one of his first hires, luring him away from George Washington University. Gargano, who describes Lombardi and himself as “developers, not maintainers,” has exuberantly implemented a Students First philosophy: staff meet with students in their world; every phone in Student Affairs and Student Life is answered by a person, not an answering system; and numerous new programs for students and parents have been launched.
“Research universities are among the most competitive businesses in the country, brutally so,” says Chancellor Lombardi. “Now, some people don’t like to hear this. It doesn’t sound graceful. But it’s a mistake to imagine that universities are not competitive. They’re about talent, and talent is competitive. Faculty, students, and staff say, ‘How far can I push my talent here?’ They need space and equipment, and the campus needs to be able to compete for talent by providing the context for people to develop their ability to its highest level.”
These words are music to the ears of Charlena Seymour, who was officially named provost in May after serving in an interim capacity. “Having worked to maintain stability the past few years,” says Provost Seymour, “I’ll now be working with the deans and chancellor to develop a grand plan for academics in the next three years.”
She’s begun by approving searches for full-time faculty following the early retirement of 141 tenure-track faculty. She approved 75 searches for 2004 and says 100 approved searches is her goal for 2005. “We’ll hire more in public health, nursing, the humanities and fine arts, and the social and behavioral sciences, which have huge teaching loads,” explains Provost Seymour. “Last year, we hired more in the sciences and engineering.”
The College of Engineering just dedicated the new Engineering Laboratory II, built this spring as the seventh engineering building. Sleekly designed in brick and glass, E-Lab II houses the university’s nationally recognized research programs in chemical and civil/environmental engineering. Here, faculty and students test supercritical fluids for semiconductor devices, analyze plant cell cultures for cancer treatment, and find new methods for protecting drinking water, treating wastewater, and de-icing airplanes.
An integrated sciences building, a dramatic nursing building renovation, and a studio arts building have topped the campus wish list for a long time. All three will go up on North Pleasant Street, intensifying the life of this already vibrant academic neighborhood. The buildings are still in the early stages of design, but people who think the campus has seen enough concrete to last its lifetime can rest easy.
“Facilities and Campus Planning has drawn up new design guidelines,” says Joyce Hatch, vice chancellor of administration and finance. “Brick will be the preferred material, with some use of natural stone and glass.” http://www.umass.edu/fp/index.html
Moreover, “no architects will be invited to do their own thing without regard to context,” Hatch notes. Campus administrators are insisting on creative collaboration among the architects for the buildings, which “not only must meet critical academic needs,” says Jim Cahill, director of Facilities and Campus Planning, “but will have a major impact on the experience of the campus.” In a move unprecedented on campus and rare in the architecture profession, Cahill has held planning charettes, intensive brainstorming sessions, in which the architects for all the projects have worked together on planning issues and presented their observations to campus officials.
For nursing, which has seen its enrollment double, Skinner Hall will be gutted and massively renovated according to a design by Rothman Partners. The building’s U shape will be closed up with the addition of a fourth section.
The Integrated Sciences Building, designed by Payette Associates, will go up next to Skinner and across from Hasbrouck Laboratory. There’ll be three floors of innovative teaching laboratories for chemistry and molecular and cellular biology, topped by a fourth floor for the research of highly funded faculty from the life sciences and physical sciences. The building’s open lab design will “facilitate the way teaching and research are most effectively done in the postgenomic era,” says Lila Gierasch, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “To attack the most urgent problems in life sciences—turning human genome information into detailed mechanisms of biological processes, including the origin of disease—the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, need to be brought into life science research.”
Designed by Graham Gund, the new Studio Arts Building has been penciled in for the parking lot across the street from the Fine Arts Center. It will bring 28 professors and 450 students together for the first time, getting them out of the Milkers Bungalow and other old inadequate buildings with quaint names. “As a home for all the studio arts,” says Lee Edwards, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, “the building will facilitate the artistic possibilities that come from the chemistry of artists talking and having access to one another’s work on a regular, immediate basis.”
A Central Project:The Heating Plant
The central heating plant is perhaps the granddaddy of old facilities on campus, sitting in the gully behind the parking garage pretty much as it was when it was built in the 1940s. “The Physical Plant people have done a terrific job of keeping the heating plant running,” says Cahill, “but now it’s so old that if a part has to be replaced, it has to be built.”
Chancellor Lombardi describes the plant as “one of the oldest heating plants in the western world,” and adds, “when they break ground on the new plant, I’ll be there.”
The new heating plant will be built behind the Mullins Center on what was once the Derby Track. Right now, 15 feet of fill are sitting there to compact the clay beneath the surface, and 1,100 wicks are drilled 80 feet into the clay to bring the water out of its layers so the site can be built on.
The new plant will generate five times more electricity and accommodate any future growth of the campus. Its five boilers will burn a gas-and-oil fuel whose price will be offset by campuswide energy conservation measures being implemented through an energy services contract that UMass Amherst has just entered. At a cost of $85 million to build, the new heating plant, says Cahill, will be “the cleanest plant in the country, if not the world.”
The Other 48 Percent of the Story
Brand-new buildings are only half the story of the coming growth of UMass Amherst. Almost half of the $540 million in capital projects will be spent on renovations and repairs.
• Physical Plant staff are sprucing up classrooms and lecture halls in dozens of buildings, installing new furniture, blackboards, blinds, and other features during intercession “winter blitzes”.
• Two new high-tech auditoriums are planned, to be attached to current facilities or built as freestanding buildings, and labs are being renovated.
• The Campus Center is getting a new roof and a teaching restaurant.
• Berkshire Dining Commons is being overhauled.
• A new track will be built next to Rudd Field in the southwest athletic complex. Starting in 2005, UMass Amherst will once again be able to host track and field meets.
• During the summers, Physical Plant workers are creating a more unified look on campus through lamping, walkways, fencing, curbing, and lettering.
And there are acres of resurfacing projects: The W.E.B. Du Bois Library is getting a new concrete deck with seating and about 50 trees. Behind the library will be a courtyard with trees and shrubs. Construction is under way and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
The concourse at the Southwest Residential Halls will also be torn up and replaced with new concrete. And here’s news that might have people dancing in the street: in front of the dorms, University Drive will be repaved.
The sea change to come at UMass Amherst has already begun, with a major makeover to the face of the campus: The Fine Arts Center Plaza was renovated this spring to feature parking for persons with disabilities and seating niches with metal benches and metal columns fitted with soft lighting and banners. The renovations were done with 60,000 square feet of surface concrete, keeping with the monumental scale of the Fine Arts Center. Strikingly, what once was a decommissioned reflecting pool is now the Class of 1954 Garden, with dozens of small trees and grasses flanking a concrete bridge. The makeover gives more definition to the plaza, which is used by busloads of students and visitors.
“The garden makes a nice transition from the plaza to the campus,” notes Chancellor Lombardi, crossing the bridge. “It took the students about 10 seconds to see that.”
Surveying the young new trees approvingly, he adds, “Digging new dirt always cheers me up. It tells me we’re making progress.”
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