UMass begins soliciting plans to build new undergraduate, graduate and family housing

Projected construction for North Village, Lincoln and other residential buildings

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Cassie McGrath and Wafi Habib

The University of Massachusetts sent out a press release announcing plans to start the process of soliciting proposals to build new undergraduate, graduate and student family housing on Jan. 30.

The University released a statement announcing their plans to reconstruct North Village and Lincoln Apartments last semester. The announcement caused a strong reaction from the UMass community. An Amherst town council meeting addressed concerns after residents from North Village released a statement with their demands from the University regarding the move.

The press release addressed the University’s plans for the construction of the North Village, Lincoln Apartments and new undergraduate housing.

“The Amherst campus proposals are being sought from developers to provide high-quality, affordable student family residences and to meet a need for undergraduate and graduate student housing,” the press release read.

It also stated that about 1,200 beds are projected to be available by fall 2022. The construction will replace student family housing units and North Village and build “modern, apartment-style housing for undergraduate and graduate students along Massachusetts Avenue, including replacing Lincoln Apartments originally built in 1958,” according to the press release

The press release also noted the creation of a North Village and Lincoln Apartments Advisory Committee whose purpose is “to serve as a central point for sharing information and securing feedback from staff, graduate students and undergraduate students.”

Attached in the press release was a brochure which elaborates on the construction plans.

“We really looked closely at what needed to be done and concluded it wasn’t really a wise investment to redo facilities of that age and that quality of construction they originally constructed, not for the amount of time they’ve been in place, right,” said Ed Blaguszewski, the executive director of strategic communications and special assistant to the vice chancellor.

North Village was constructed in 1972 as temporary housing. “That’s a long temporary,” he said.

Blaguszewski also address concerns about the infrastructure of the buildings. “In addition to the actual state of the facilities, the infrastructure that goes into them that provides essential things like plumbing, water, electricity, heat are also at the end of their cycles as well. And so, a lot of folks may say, ‘oh, they look great.’ They may not be looking great in actuality. So that’s part of what impacts us as well,” he said.

Blaguszewski added that UMass is working to incorporate a variety of housing options for students. “Other institutions around the country, in fact, have moved away from [graduate family housing]. But we think it’s an important aspect of our housing mix and particularly for international families as they come here to have that option. And we’re committed to doing that,” he said.

Blaguszewski continued, saying: “And so the great majority of our housing stock is old, and students are looking for more modern alternatives as part of the mix. So, constructing a new facility allows us to do that, number one. And number two, it allows us to have the flexibility to take other facilities off the line and renovate them.”

A North Village resident an international student named James spoke to the Collegian about this issue. His last name has been omitted in order to protect his privacy, as he feared repercussions for speaking about his experience. He has lived in North Village since 2015 and plans to continue studying at UMass next year.

“Obviously, it is much cheaper than other places which is the financial aspect. But one of the bigger aspects is the community design for family housing. I have a child, and he grew up here,” he said. “You’ll find bikes over here and bikes over there. The kids all know whose toy it is and whose bike it is.”

He continued, saying: “I think it’s different than if you go to, say if I was staying in one of the houses, sometimes you don’t even know your neighbors. But here, we know our neighbors, and we have potlucks sometimes. These are people who we did not grow up with, who are from different countries, sometimes there are people from other parts of the U.S. And that is a community aspect.”

Despite his connections to the community, James understands the complexity of the situation.

“I speak for myself and not everyone, but I think for me I kind of understand what the university is trying to do. If they are genuine, then they are trying to improve or make it safer,” he said.

Residents who lived in North Village before the reconstruction and will continue their education at UMass after the construction, have the first opportunity to move into the new housing. “We’ve committed to those residents that they would come back in, at their existing rent, plus whatever is the usual kind of inflationary increases would have been if they had kind of still lived in North Village,” said Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Shane Conklin.

There were concerns amongst the North Village community that housing prices would rise after the renovations.

“There is going to be a balance between trying to have all the amenities that we want in these projects, having sustainable features and also affordability,” Conklin said. There is a procurement process in place that works to find the best market rate for the units. “We hope that we’ll have opportunities to identify ways to try to reduce costs in some ways.”

Conklin continued, saying: “There is a North Village in Lincoln Student Advisory Committee, also that is going to be primarily having direct input and feedback on a monthly basis as we go through the procurement process, which as you saw from the press release, was just released in January.”

When asked how the residents are choosing where to move, James said, “What I know is that we have been ranked, with a number so to speak, based on how long you’ve been staying here, if you’re graduating at the end of the semester, whether you’re occupying and two bedroom or one bedroom apartment, there are all these things to come up with the ranking. So, we don’t know what they’ve decided. Most people have been quite private with their decisions.” Part of the relocation process is ensuring that students with children are able to live in the same school district.

As construction begins, James hopes that there is  community aspect in the future, similar to the one that was present in North Village. “I hope that they can still provide this space for future families, and this is not necessarily just graduate families. Last year, we had an undergraduate single mom, with her son who lived there. And there are two other undergraduate students with families here. So, providing a space like that would be awesome,” he said.

The Lincoln apartments are also projected to be reconstructed in this plan. “We would expect to rebuild graduate housing, like what Lincoln is now, for graduate students. And there’s a hundred or so units in Lincoln. And we’ve identified an opportunity to build approximately, 160 to 165, is what we’re thinking, of graduate units in the Lincoln area,” said Conklin.

The same offer to move back in with similar rent was not extended to Lincoln because they are on a residence hall contract. In addition, “The single graduate students that typically lived in Lincoln, our pattern that we saw was that they would come in, get used to the area and then they would find their way to another apartment. So, it’s a high turnover,” said David Vaillancourt, interim dean of students.

The University has hired Newmark Knight Frank to manage the procurement process. “What this does is it provides us the opportunity to work with a developer to create modern housing. And then, it provides us the opportunity to have funds that we can redirect for other purposes,” Blaguszewski said.

In addition to reconstructing Lincoln, the University plans to build housing on Massachusetts Ave., which will have around 730 beds primarily for undergraduate students. “Similar to like an Honors College type, four or five levels of construction, is what we would imagine occurring closer to the Mass Ave. That would be for the undergraduate students,” Conklin added.

Recently, with the acceptance of over 700 more students in the class of 2023 than the previous year, housing for first-year students has changed.

“Now, that has had an impact on immediate housing within the residence halls and in lines of the dining commons. And we understand that,” Blaguszewski said. “But that spike in growth and the incoming class is not what we plan or suggest or expect for next year or the coming years. We’re going to adapt and adjust our admissions evaluation.”

The plan is to eventually rebuild old residential buildings on campus. When these buildings  are being reconstructed, students will be relocated to this housing on Massachusetts Ave. The Student Affairs and Campus Life is working on a Residential Life Master Plan which will look at improvements on housing suggested by students.

“What would happen is in the planning process, we would look at what building we’re taking down. And in the planning, we would say if it’s a first-year building, then we identify other first year buildings in that process,” said Vaillancourt “So, it’s the new construction, definitely upper division students, sophomores, junior, senior years.”

In other words, during the construction of traditionally freshman buildings, the first-year students would be relocated into existing buildings while the new building on Massachusetts Ave. would be reserved for the relocation of upperclassmen.

“There’s going to need to be continual reinvestment in most of the dormitories. And so, we’re working on a plan that will identify kind of reasonable things that we can implement over the next five, 10 years to kind of maintain the stock of dormitories,” Conklin said.

 Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected]umass.edu. Wafi Habib can be reached at [email protected]