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UMass Commonwealth College debuts 7-building complex

Space includes classrooms, dorms, offices, 24-hour cafe

  • Eddie Hull, who is the executive director of residential life at the University of Massachusetts, leads a tour of the university's new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community Wednesday on the centrally located pedestrian walkway.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Eddie Hull, who is the executive director of residential life at the University of Massachusetts, leads a tour of the university's new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community Wednesday on the centrally located pedestrian walkway.
    JERREY ROBERTS

  • Special to The Recorder<br/>The Roots Cafe in the Administration Building at the new Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday.

    Special to The Recorder
    The Roots Cafe in the Administration Building at the new Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday.

  • Eddie Hull, who is the executive director of residential life at the University of Massachusetts, leads a tour of the university's new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community Wednesday on the centrally located pedestrian walkway.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Special to The Recorder<br/>The Roots Cafe in the Administration Building at the new Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday.

AMHERST — Describing her campus living quarters as being as nice as any hotel she ever stayed in, Cara D’Amico said the completion of the Commonwealth Honors College buildings at the University of Massachusetts prompted her to continue dorm life.

“If this hadn’t opened, I probably would have lived off campus,” said D’Amico, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Southborough.

With the opening of a new seven-building complex this week in the heart of the campus, the Commonwealth Honors College will have its own space at UMass for the first time since its initial class was accepted in 1999.

“Now it’s a place, a community,” said Daniel Gordon, a professor of history and the acting dean for the college. The area will allow students to better support one another and have better access to professors, he said.

The buildings, totaling 517,637 square feet, include six dormitories containing 1,500 beds and nine seminar-style classrooms, as well as an administrative building with a cafe, conference room and offices.

Gordon calls the $186.5 million project off Commonwealth Avenue a “game changer” for the most ambitious students, offering them an intimate setting with access to the best aspects of the university, including proximity to the W.E.B. DuBois Library, the Recreation Center and other classroom buildings.

Gordon said Commonwealth is a way to get the best and brightest students to come to the state’s flagship campus for a four-year curriculum with small classes, greater assistance from professors and the completion of a senior research thesis.

Incoming students, on average, rank in the top 4 percent of their high school classes, while students who join after arriving at UMass enter with an average grade point average of 3.8.

The 1,500 students who will be living on site represent about half of the 3,000 students who make up the college. This year, all students who wanted to live there — more than 600 freshmen and close to 900 upper-class students — were accommodated.

Other than being part of the college, the rooms for first-year Commonwealth students are identical in size to those elsewhere on the UMass campus, with beds, dressers and portable closets and common bathrooms in the hallways. Upper-class students have a choice of suites, which include bathrooms and living areas, or apartments, which also have kitchens.

In addition, two professors will be living in apartments within the dormitories.

Gordon said that the administrative building, which is surrounded by the dormitories, contains the Roots Cafe, which will be open 24 hours a day, and additional multi-function space on the lower level and offices on the upper levels.

The conference room will be used to house one of Commonwealth College’s signature evening programs, known as pizza with a professor.

“We want students to be talking about ideas all day and all night,” Gordon said.

The complex also contains a 400-seat amphitheater that could be used for lectures or performances.

The area is also open to other UMass students. The nine classrooms have 115 courses scheduled, with about one-quarter of those expected to be used by non-Commonwealth College classes. The cafe is open to all students, as are the outdoor spaces and boulevard that cuts through the complex.

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