The moment someone walks through the front doors of University Suites, the new $54 million residence hall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, it becomes clear why it’s considered the best place to live on campus, said student Akash Qureshi.
The dorm’s attractions include a modern design, suite-style rooms, multiple common areas,
central air-conditioning, and especially the Red Mango frozen yogurt offered in the dining area, the 21-year-old UMass Lowell senior said.
“Everywhere you look, you see a giant TV staring at you, so that’s pretty awesome,” Qureshi added.
The 148,000-square-foot, five-story residence hall, located on UMass Lowell’s East Campus, is part of an effort to enhance the university’s appeal and answer student housing demand.
“When students decide where they want to attend a university, they’re most likely to look for a place that has high-quality residence halls,” said UMass Lowell’s chancellor, Marty Meehan. “You need to be proactive to bring students here, and you have to attract them with something.
“Part of what we do is attract students with high-quality housing and high-quality facilities.”
Enrollment at UMass Lowell has grown 40 percent since 2007, according to the university, to nearly 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Work on University Suites began in April 2012. Local officials, university leaders, and students gathered in the building’s courtyard on Aiken Street recently to officially open the new residence hall, which is the school’s sixth new building to be completed in the last year.
Riverview Suites is another newly opened suite-style residence hall. It has its own unique décor and amenities, including a full fitness center.
Located on UMass Lowell’s South Campus, Riverview is home to 510 students who live in four- and six-person suites.
University Suites is home to 472 students, most of whom moved in on Labor Day weekend, and it includes 88 four- and six-bed suites with their own common areas, kitchenettes, and bathrooms.
Students pay $4,650 per semester to live in the new building, which houses upperclassmen, including those enrolled in the Commonwealth Honors Program . Traditional dorm rooms on campus cost $3,547 a semester.
The first-floor dining area, called the Hawk’s Nest Cafe, serves grab-and-go meals during the day and Asian-fusion cuisine in the evening.
Besides Red Mango frozen yogurt, it also offers Starbucks coffee.
Students with a meal plan can spend up to $350 a semester on the food, while those who don’t can buy what they want with cash or swipe the university’s version of a debit card.
University Suites has eight common lounge areas with full kitchens, couches, and flat-screen TVs; quiet study rooms; multipurpose rooms; and a glass-fronted living room with a fireplace.
It took several months of preparation, including surveying students to see how they hope to utilize the space, said Joel McCarthy, UMass Lowell’s director of residence life.
That included setting up mock bedrooms with different types of furniture to gauge what students liked. More than 1,000 students tested furniture during a one-week trial last year.
“It feels fantastic,” McCarthy said of the final result, and the way students reacted to it. “The planning along the way has been great, very exciting, and the student feedback since we moved in has just been wonderful.”
Students have taken full advantage of their new home’s amenities, and can be found spending time relaxing in the lounges or hitting the books in the study rooms with their floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the campus.
“This is a really good addition to the university,” said Fahmin Zaman, 21, a senior studying political science. “It just proves that Lowell is growing and we’re definitely a top-tier university in the country, so I think it’s really important to have new additions like this building and other buildings. It creates a draw for incoming freshmen.”
University Suites is being financed through bonds allocated by the UMass Lowell Building Authority, which are set to be paid off in 30 years by residents’ fees.
The other buildings that opened on the campus this year were two parking garages, the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, and the Health and Social Sciences building on the South Campus.
The university also is slated to open a new student union building in the fall of 2014. It will be home to the student affairs department, admissions, and all student clubs.