A largely idle site at a downtown Lowell intersection is being transformed into a community park through the efforts of a local nonprofit.
UTEC, a Lowell-based agency that serves young adults who have been involved in the criminal justice system, is partnering with the city to create the multi-purpose outdoor space on its own property and a former triangular-shaped traffic island at the corner of Warren and Hurd streets.
When completed this spring, The Green @ UTEC — located in front of the agency’s headquarters — will feature 7,500 square feet of publicly accessible space, including a new synthetic turf lawn, a deck with picnic tables, a swing set beneath a pergola, paved paths, benches, and plantings. A perimeter fence and lighting are also planned.
“This is really an expansion of the community-building work that has been a big part of our overall mission,” said Gregg Croteau, chief executive officer of UTEC, which serves about 500 young people annually from the Merrimack Valley through outreach and programs.
In addition to being a place for local residents to enjoy the outdoors, he said the park will provide added space for the child-care program UTEC offers for the children of its young adult participants, and for community activities such as fitness classes and small concerts.
He said the largely state-funded $1.3 million project will also help revitalize a visible downtown area that has seen a loss of activity due to the relocation in 2020 of the Lowell District Courthouse from its former building on Hurd Street to the new Lowell Justice Center in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.
The Green @ UTEC is being built on a small lawn owned by UTEC and the adjacent former city-owned traffic island. Under a memorandum of understanding, Lowell is allowing UTEC free use of its property while UTEC will manage the overall site, according to Christine McCall, assistant city manager and director of the Department of Planning and Development in Lowell.
“This has always been an underutilized space,” Croteau said of the UTEC and city properties. “We saw an opportunity to help advance economic development for the city while simultaneously creating a really unique community space that would help advance our work with young adults.”
While planning began prior to COVID-10, Croteau said the project — designed by landscape architect Lemon Brooke — will also provide an enhanced outdoor area for UTEC’s child-care program and in general help meet the growing community demand for outdoor gathering spaces spurred by the pandemic.
“We are very excited about the project,” McCall said, noting that in addition to enhancing a downtown open space, the project involves needed drainage improvements and will improve pedestrian safety by upgrading crosswalks and reducing the frequency of motorists taking illegal left turns at the intersection.
“UTEC is a great organization and a great partner so we are happy to support their efforts,” she added.
The project, which includes new sidewalks and utilities, is being largely funded by a $1.09 million state grant awarded through the MassWorks Infrastructure program, and $38,555 provided by MassDevelopment. UTEC is seeking private donations to raise the remaining $150,000 needed to pay for amenities not covered by the grants.
Founded in 1999, UTEC works to reduce recidivism among its target population. In addition to direct outreach, the agency provides social enterprises that offer its participants job training; high school equivalency classes; case management and mental health care; the child-care center; and a social advocacy program.
Croteau said when UTEC renovated its headquarters in 2012, the 1839 former church became the nation’s oldest building to earn a LEED Platinum rating for its environmentally friendly features.
“To have a unique headquarters and then to have the Green @ UTEC right next to it makes the park project even more special,” he said. “We’re really excited to see it happen.”
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.