UMass begins to build anew from inside out

AMHERST — A year and a half after completing a 50-year master plan for the University of Massachusetts campus, the university is well on its way to becoming the greener, more modern, densely built campus stakeholders envisioned.

That’s according to Dennis Swinford, director of campus planning, who updated about 25 staff members and neighbors at a public forum recently on the progress the university is making toward that goal.

Among the things the university can cross off its list are the $19 million Commonwealth Honors College campus and the $157 million Life Sciences Laboratory, he said.

To achieve the goal of filling in the core of the campus with more academic and residential buildings and spaces for student activities, the university plans to replace parking lots in the core with buildings or green spaces, sending cars instead to five parking garages, and to tear down Bartlett and Hill halls.

Another major goal, to make the campus more pedestrian- and biker-friendly, will involve adding bike lanes and sidewalks to more roads around campus. Swinford also said the university may make some inner-campus roads into pedestrian-only ways to channel traffic in a loop around campus on Commonwealth and Massachusetts avenues, Governors Drive, and Thatcher Way.

Swinford named the completed Commonwealth Honors College, which features both residential and academic buildings, as an example of the kind of mixed-use areas the university wants to create in the campus core.

Other completed projects Swinford highlighted were the construction of the Life Sciences Laboratory and the Structural Testing Facility for engineering students at Tilson Farm, the renovations of Hampshire Dining Commons, and relocation of the PVTA Training Facility.

He said the first phase of the Agricultural Learning Center project is finished in that fields were already planted and harvested this year. The second phase, which is still in the planning stage, involves renovating and moving a historic horse barn and farmhouse from the inner campus to UMass Adams-Wysocki Field at 911 North Pleasant St., where the center will be located.

The first phases of several other projects, including a disc golf course on Orchard Hill and renovations to the Lincoln Campus Center concourse, were also finished, he said. Both projects are expected to be finished next year.

Among the projects now in the construction phase, the central campus infrastructure project will relocate utilities and improve pedestrian ways, including creating a pedestrian plaza. “It will be a new area of open space on campus, right outside the Student Union,” he said.

Of the two new buildings being built, the new academic classroom building will be a 150,000-square foot building next to the Campus Center. It will house communications, journalism, linguistics and other departments when it opens, likely in fall 2014, Swinford said.

Also expected to be completed next year is the UMass Basketball Champions Center, a 49,500-square-foot practice facility for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and new football training facilities and a press box in McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

There were no residential projects on Swinford’s list of projects that are completed, ongoing or planned for the near future, something that did not escape residents who attended the meeting.

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