Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Changing Face Of UMass Amherst

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is changing.  The nearly century and a half old state university is trying to revamp its reputation.  This effort means a more selective admissions process for incoming students, and a recently launched re-branding campaign.

"This Is UMass Amherst.  This is Next," according to the knew campaign.  Apparently we're also wide open, and just crazy about maroon.

There's no doubt that UMass Amherst can use a better public image.  For decades it's been denigrated around fancy dinner tables as being a second rate institution, more of a party school than a haven for serious academics.  In fact the re-branding effort has raised hackles, even prompting a flurry of slightly insulting op-eds from the Boston Globe.  The schools president and student paper both responded thoughtfully, but the fact that the Op-Ed Battle of 2010 even happened demonstrates how badly my school needs the ongoing face lift.

And nowhere is that process more visible than on campus.  Lets move away from the domains of bureaucrats and media critics, and take a look at the physical changes taking place on campus.  As students and staff make their way across the school grounds, they see a major facilities improvement campaign underway.

That's right dear blog reader, the UMass Amherst campus is the subject of a major construction and rehabilitation push.

If you're interested in a full list of ongoing project, you can check out the informative Facilities Planning web page on campus projects here.

I found myself gravitating toward two of the "Major Project" pages, the new Marching Band Building, and the New Laboratory Science Building.

I've been walking past the busy site of the new band building all semester, and I've really enjoyed watching it come together.  For most of the term the campus band has been practicing outside, banging their drums and bashing their cymbals.  Progress has been moving along at a steady clip, and since I've been watching, its changed from a rebar shell to a fleshed out angular brick shelter, the workers apparently not distracted by the band's best efforts.  According to the project page, the new building will be able to contain our school's 300 member band without issue.

On the other side of campus another, much larger project is underway.  The New Laboratory Science Building seems to be moving along swiftly, and is slated for completion in the Summer of 2012.  The project site describes the architects dilemma in building a flexible research space:

Since the future course of scientific research cannot be predicted with exact certainty, it is critical that new facilities create large, flexible and adaptable systems that can easily accommodate growth and changing paradigms. 
I'm a bit of a futurist, so I like that kind of language.  On top of that challenging requirement, the contractor has been charged with a phased construction plan, which will allow researchers to use completed sections of the building while work is being done on later phases.  I'm not a scientist, so I wont pretend I understand the significance of all this, but as a fan of human progress, I'm on board.

Those of us trapped in the crumbling ruin that is Bartlett Hall will have to wait a bit longer for our life boat.  The good news is that a new, $85 million academic building is planned to serve a number of Humanities departments, including Journalism.  The bad news is that it's not slated for completion until January 2014.

Take a quick visual tour of the campus under construction:

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