Category Archives: Massachusetts

The Lowell Plan and the Lowell School Committee led the high school site selection process

Lowell, Massachusetts: a city on a journey down the rabbit hole …

George DeLuca
August 31, 2017


We insist on the downtown location … council vote or not!

The Lowell School Committee is apparently questioning the legality of a city council vote conducted by Mayor Ed Kennedy on June 20 in the council chambers at city hall. A 5-4 vote determined the Cawley site to be the chosen location for the high school.

The school committee is now contending they haven’t had enough say in the site selection process … but the public record indicates otherwise.

A thorough review of the matter dating back to 2008 should be enough to clear the city council body of any voting indiscretions.

Since 2008, the school committee has been the leading influence in determining the future location of Lowell High School. However, members didn’t have an appetite for the Cawley site back then so they declined a proposal by the Lowell Plan to move the school out of downtown.

Lowell Plan Executive Director Jim Cook has since worked hard to ensure that the high school remains in the current downtown location. This commitment was cemented in 2010, when Cook hired “renown” urban planner Jeff Speck who spent that summer living in downtown Lowell, family in tow.

Speck’s commission produced a report entitled “The Lowell Downtown Evolution Plan,” a document that included a preliminary review and cursory analysis of suggested locations for a new Lowell High School.

Speck posited a scenario for renovation and expansion of the existing high school versus creating a new campus style complex at the Cawley site. Taken at face value, the report contains some significant errors and reflects the ambivalence of an urban planner torn between two possible solutions.

Nonetheless, Speck publicly endorsed the current location as good urban practice. But in fairness, his job was to appease Cook and his “blue ribbon” associates who were outspoken in their advocacy for the downtown location. In fact, Cook did not permit Speck to answer public inquiries about the report.

Fast forward to May 2013, when the school committee engaged OMR Architects of West Acton, Mass. to complete a master plan for Lowell’s twenty-nine schools k-12. Their work involved completing a comprehensive existing conditions study and facilities assessment at a cost of about $330,000.

In October 2013, OMR presented the downtown and Cawley options to the school committee facilities sub-committee and the full committee, who drove the process. Both committees promised public forums after the 2013 election and swearing-in ceremonies. However, school committee public forums never took place.

The private forums conducted during the OMR study involved school administrators, staff, maintenance personnel, teachers and students among other hand picked participants. Once the report was complete, the school committee turned its attention to funding the recommended improvements to the k-12 schools.

On March 19, 2014, the school committee, firmly behind the downtown option, voted to request state funding via the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) via “Statements of Interest (SOI)” for five citywide school projects as assembled by OMR. Although a high school project was included as one SOI, the document did not offer the Cawley option, only downtown.

To add fuel to the confusion, the school committee misinterpreted MSBA rules and were told by the authority the city could only submit one SOI. The k-8 projects would have to wait.

The MSBA submittal process also required city council approval of the school committee’s “Statement of Interest.” Confusion engulfed the city council chambers the night of the council vote. As a result, the deliberation was fractured and rushed.

Why wasn’t the council kept abreast of the year long effort of the school committee involving about a half-billion dollars in projects by today’s prices? To answer this question, perhaps it would help to shed more light by delving a little deeper into the history of the project.

Bolstered by the Speck report released in October 2010, Jim Cook continued to tout the current downtown site as the best location for the high school. Cook made a bizarre public declaration to that effect during an interview with the Lowell Sun published on August 4, 2013 while the OMR study was in progress.

In a report dated November 13, 2013 and presented to the school committee, OMR provided a cost analysis of alternative sites for the high school including the current downtown location, the Cawley site and the South Common site.

OMR’s downtown option had a project cost of $245 million, $45 million cheaper than the projection for the Cawley site, which was $290 million. Was this wishful thinking?

OMR’s projected project cost for the downtown option was close to $100 million cheaper than the Skanska/Perkins-Eastman (the city’s OPM) projection. In fact, the OPM fleshed out Cawley vs. Option 3 to close to even, with various unknowns affecting both sites still to be sorted-out.

With all that said, there’s a glaring question that you may have picked up on: Who gave Jim Cook the authority to guarantee the current high school site location?

Cook said that he had preliminary discussions with both MA Senator Eileen Donaghue and U. S. Representative Niki Tsongas’s regional director Brian Martin, who had by then been awarded the position of Lowell High School headmaster as the uncontested lone finalist. But again, who was giving the orders?

On March 24, 2014, former Deputy Superintendent of Lowell Public Schools Jay Lang provided an explanation of the school committee’s (misguided) March 19 vote to submit five school projects to the MSBA. This faux-pas required a redo the following week. Meanwhile, the false information was relayed to the city council, adding to the confusion.

At the April 2, 2014 meeting of the school committee, David Conway corrected Lang’s comments about the five SOIs and the school committee voted to choose the high school project involving the downtown location as their sole SOI to the MSBA.

Next stop was to the city council for a vote on April 8, 2014. A sense of urgency was then laid on the city council because the SOI was due by the April 11 deadline, so the city council obliged the school committee with a unanimous yea vote to avoid a mandatory year wait for the next opportunity to file.

Much of the confusion experienced by the city council that night can be attributed to the school committee’s lack of understanding of the MSBA process up to that point and Lang’s presentation of false information to the council on March 24.

Lang also told the council the city could expect an 80% reimbursement rate on a $245 million high school  project at the current location. This was a convincing argument and a primary impetus for the council to go forward.

Lang’s letter verifies that, on March 24, neither he nor the school committee members knew that the MSBA would not accept a multiple project application. As a result, the school committee selected the renovations/additions to the high school in its current location as the preferred project. The submittal was corrected for the hand-off to the city council for a vote.

In essence, the city council voted to approve the school committee’s preferred option of the downtown site on the basis of trust. Ironically, the Cawley site plan was developed because of the MSBA requirement to also submit a “new” construction site if possible.

The city council basically rubber stamped the school committee’s “Statement of Interest” and newly hired City Manager Kevin Murphy had it forwarded to the MSBA!

The school committee drove the bus on the “preferred option” which was downtown. The city council didn’t really know what it was approving because the OMR report contained over 3000 pages and they had less than a week to vote on the school committee’s revised “Statement of Interest.”

The process got mired down in the missteps of the school committee and the school administration. Regardless, the city council approved the recommendation of the school committee unanimously and with very little knowledge of what was in the OMR report.

Subsequently, upon receiving a green light from the MSBA, the city hired Skanska USA Building consulting as the Owner’s Project Manager and Perkins Eastman|DPC as the Architect/Project Management team to complete the preliminary studies phase including the feasibility study while following the MSBA process.

The Cawley and others sites, were brought in to satisfy the MSBA requirement for a new construction alternative. The city council worked hard to keep up with the whirlwind process and managed to meet all the requirements set forth by the MSBA.

The Cawley site, and others, were presented to the School Building Committee, a panel of public officials formed to oversee the design process for the city. The School Building Committee voted on a shortlist of four options. The four options sent to the MSBA on May 18, 2017 included three downtown options and the Cawley site.

Jim Cook’s public posturing and rhetoric ebbed then ceased after Kevin Murphy became city manager. But the Lowell Plan director was selected to be a member of the School Building Committee.

A couple of days before the city council vote, the School Building Committee voted on a “Preferred Option.” That vote resulted in a tie between Option 3 (9 votes) and the Cawley site (9 votes). Their verdict was reported to the city council.

By June 20, the city council was ready to move on to the Schematic Design phase.

Few expected the Cawley site to be the final selection of the city council until it actually happened on June 20. After 64 members of the public delivered their thoughts and preferences in the council chambers, the council voted on the Cawley site, the five story option.

Before the Lowell elections in 2013, I interviewed several candidates about their vision for the future of City of Lowell. I asked city council candidate Jim Milinazzo why Jim Cook had so much power over the city relative to the high school issue. Milinazzo replied, “George, you’re giving him too much credit.” I interpreted this to mean that Cook was only following orders. But whose orders was he following and why? An official explanation from the Lowell Plan is still in order.

Other questions remain unanswered about the determination of the high school location. But one fact is clear. The Lowell School Committee has had a say from day one. In fact, their efforts can be credited as the driving factor that led to the ultimate decision of the Lowell City Council to locate the high school at the Cawley site using a fair and transparent process that was meticulously executed.

Apparently, the process was flawed from the very beginning long before the city council did their job.

In essence, the school committee has accused the city council of conducting an illegal vote. A thorough investigation may be the best way to completely vindicate the city council at this point.

And the public record will not only support the council’s position if such an inquiry is started, it may also incriminate several high ranking officials who have tried to control the process for several years running. No one wants this to happen but time is of the essence and the project must not be delayed any further. The council has voted and damages are accruing.

Additional questions:

What’s the status of OMR’s 10-year Capital Plan for Lowell’s schools?

With construction prices constantly on the rise, what ever happened to plans to pursue funding for needed improvements and additions to the k-8 schools?

Is Warren Shaw “a dog” in the LHS fight?


Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier: “A legal vote on the location of the high school has been taken.”

By George DeLuca
August 28, 2017

A local political analyst continues to press the discussion about where Lowell High School should be located. But how do you interpret an argument that begins with the phrase, “I don’t have a dog in the fight, BUT … “?

Is Dracut resident and 980WCAP radio celebrity Warren Shaw expressing his own opinion or using his radio pulpit to help advance the agenda of a secret party or parties?

Shaw is yet another outspoken advocate for keeping Lowell High School in its current location.

As a guest on Shaw’s Saturday Morning Show, Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier said the City Council has performed its due diligence and has meticulously followed the formal process required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). As a result, the council has executed a legal vote on the issue and has decided to move Lowell High School to the Cawley Stadium site. Mercier objects to current efforts to change the ruling.

Mercier challenged Shaw on his contention that he doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” by reminding him of his past statement, “When all is said and done, the high school will remain downtown.”

Shaw immediately admitted that he was merely parroting the position of an undisclosed party, but refused to provide the identity of the subject on the radio.

Shaw may not have a dog in the fight, but could he BE a dog in the fight? And if so … whose dog?

Move LHS to Cawley and revitalize downtown Lowell

By George DeLuca
June 20, 2017


Lowell parents want the “ideal educational environment” for their children.

The following is my speech advocating for the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, a viable economic development plan to revitalize downtown Lowell:

“You’ll notice that the signs ‘LHS Yes for Cawley’ don’t identify the bearers as parents of children affected by the decision you’re about to make tonight. But that’s who they are … they’re the parents of the affected children and their supporters. I’m one of those supporters. But I’m here tonight to speak to a broader range of issues.

We need a new high school in Lowell and we need a solid vision for economic development. Moving the high school to the Cawley site will allow the city to achieve both objectives, while clearing a major logjam that prevents economic growth.

UMass Lowell abuts the high school at the Tsongas Center. On the other side of the high school is downtown proper, Merrimack St. and Market St. On the other side of downtown proper is the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. These four segments of downtown are shielded from each other and do not interconnect or help each other in any significant way. In effect, they’re isolated operations that stagnate growth in downtown Lowell.

To improve flow and circulation, extract the high school operation from the downtown, and relocate it to the Cawley site. Then expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District to include the vacated high school property.

UMass Lowell will then have a physical connection to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District at Arcand Drive, facilitating the creation of one unified concept for downtown and solving the incompatibility problem.

This operation will permit a natural flow between UMass Lowell and the expanded enterprise zone that will extend to and include downtown proper via Lucy Larcom Park and then along the Merrimack Canal to Hamilton Canal.

This new flow pattern will lead to the revitalization of the entire downtown, while offering new and expanded amenities for all to enjoy, as we render support for incubating business enterprises and make room for their spin-off manufacturing operations.

I believe the high school should be built at Cawley so downtown Lowell can enter a phase of revitalization and deliver a renewed vitality not experienced in the mill city since the 1960s.

This dynamic change will lead to rising property values across the city, growth of the tax base, and the creation of jobs made possible by the education and training programs offered by MCC and UML. Downtown growth and the proposed revitalization will benefit the entire city.

The new high school at Cawley and the expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District will fuel these advances and help make Lowell a desired community for workers, visitors, students, residents and business owners.

The high school must be moved to provide the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, the opportunity to revitalize downtown fueled by an expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District including the vacated high school property.

We need a new high school. But we also need economic development, rising property values, and a flourishing tax base which will only be possible if we move the high school, expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and revitalize downtown.

We have an opportunity to unify the city and we need your leadership to make this happen. Make this decision the beginning of an exciting new era for ALL Lowellians. Thank you.”

Former Mayor Bud Caulfield supports Cawley Campus, delivers sage advice to Lowell City Council

By George DeLuca
June 7, 2017


Bud Caulfield


On June 6, former Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfield expressed his support of Cawley Campus in an interview with 980WCAP radio host Teddy Panos.

Special thanks to Teddy Panos and 980WCAP where “Everybody gets it!”

Here’s Bud:


Aramark and UMass Lowell build food enterprise, endure growing pains

By George DeLuca
April 21, 2017


Starbucks at Crossroads Cafe, University Crossing

Not long ago, there were only about 14,400 students attending UMass Lowell. Today there are almost 18,000 students enrolled with a projected long-range cap of 21,000, a number that serves the ultimate goals of the university as a research and development institution.

“If we achieve that, it puts us in a league of institutions nationally that are respected, they have a certain amount of research revenue coming in, and that will attract companies and good students,” said Steve Tello, UMass Lowell’s senior associate vice chancellor of entrepreneurship and economic development.

But increased enrollment has led to growing pains in areas of operations and management. With growth comes change and with change comes adjustment and adaptation. So, it should be no surprise that the food service leadership team is dealing with stresses manifesting from the continued expansion of the university.

“We have had over 100 percent growth in food service since 2007 and 2008,” said Dean Larry Siegel, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and university events. “We’re continuing to expand, expand, expand … and we’re asking Aramark to put themselves across eleven different locations with three distinctly separate dining halls. So, it’s tough to get a real efficiency when you’re spreading them out so quickly.”


Crossroads Cafe at University Crossing

Despite the challenges, the partnership has realized some success. Aramark has helped UMass Lowell launch a hospitality division to bring in revenue from outside of the university in response to recent cuts in state aid. “This is outside revenue not revenue from students–netting $750,000 that goes back into the university operation to help offset and keep costs as low as possible,” Siegel said.

The ten-year relationship with Aramark has not been easy to develop, but to date, Siegel said he is satisfied with progress. “I think they’ve done a marvelous job, as I work directly with them. I know they care about our students,” he said.

New educational, dormitory and research facilities continue to meld into the landscape across campus. UMass Lowell is committed to providing the infrastructure necessary to accommodate increasing enrollment and the university is working feverishly to keep up with service demands. The transformation that has occurred at South Campus is a case-in-point.

The new dining hall at the McGauvran Student Center opened in January 2016, replacing the old Mill City Restaurant which was razed leaving an expansive area of green space for the enjoyment of students.


UMass Lowell Dean Larry Siegel

Meanwhile, the new Riverview Suites dormitory added about 1,000 students resulting in a stream of interest in the South Campus meal-plan program. In turn, Aramark was directed to “just feed a thousand more people now!” said Siegel.

Since 2007, “we’ve renovated almost every single location across campus and Mill City is the last to undergo that transition” said Rachel DeGrigorio, the marketing manager for Aramark and a UMass Lowell alumni. She is on the front lines in the effort to keep up with food supply, processing and distribution on all campuses throughout the university.

Besides the dramatic increase in students with meal plans at South Campus, the need for infrastructure upgrades has led to a greater focus on sustainability. For example, the new kitchen, located in the basement area of the McGauvran facility required new equipment and utilities to replace the outdated 1970s food processing machinery of the old dining hall.

“Now the building is equipped with Energy Star equipment, which uses the least amount of energy possible. Water conservation is another huge advantage. We also have a new food-pulper,” DiGregorio said. The new machine transforms food waste into compost that can be used campus-wide in gardens and on landscaping projects.

The infrastructure improvements at McGauvran were supervised and managed by UMass Lowell, so basically, Aramark is responsible for food procurement, handling and service and they manage staff, operations and vendors at food venues across campus.


Crossroads Cafe at University Crossing

However, there is a financial partnership whereas Aramark has made contributions to the university including $18 million to support projects like “the renovation of Fox Dining, oversight of retail brand operations like Starbucks and Subway and the creation of the Crossroads Café,” Siegel said. Aramark also assisted with renovations of the dining halls at the Inn and Conference Center (ICC) and McGauvran.

In response to the sudden deluge of hungry students, Aramark is developing a new auditing system to gather data about those who purchase meal plans. This system can differentiate between meal plan students, the commuter plan students and those who pay cash.

“There was a 30 percent increase (in meal plan purchases) at South and that number has remained constant through this academic year,” DiGregorio said. By contrast, 1,800 to 2,000 meals were served daily at Mill City Restaurant, whereas, the new McGauvran dining facility serves about 2,500 meals a day.


McGauvran Student Center at South Campus

The newness and the comfort offered at McGauvran has enticed students to linger at the student center. In the old facility, “you came in, you ate, but why would you want to stay there?” DiGregorio said. “At McGauvran, you have beautiful windows that overlook the campus and soft seating so you can congregate and meet your friends.”

The Fox Hall dining facility at East Campus serves 5,000 meals a day and the ICC serves about 1,200 meals. Including McGauvran’s 2,500 meals, DiGrigorio estimates that Aramark serves between 8,000 and 8,700 meals a day, about 85 percent of which are served to students who have unlimited meal plans.

Aramark also manages the retail businesses and dining halls across campus and sometimes there is operational crossover for the sake of efficiency. For example, the Merrimack Market at McGauvran has a bakery that services the dining hall and the retail stations at Crossroads Café at University Crossing.


McGauvran Student Center at South Campus

The McGauvran dining hall has required some additional service staff. However, the extra help on the floor is not necessarily proportionate to the increase in diners. “It might not be 30 percent because you gain efficiencies with multi-tasking. We probably added ten to twelve positions based on the transition including kitchen support downstairs,” DiGrigorio said, noting that qualified culinary hires are recruited at job fairs, but students are commonly used as seconds on the line and as assistants when needed.

Generally, DiGrigorio is confident that safeguards are in place to ensure that the food is being handled and processed properly. A city inspector makes the rounds periodically and there’s an independent company that performs monthly and quarterly audits. “There are certain challenges sometimes when you’re doing institutional cooking. We’re trying to create the freshest approach in mass quantity,” she said.

In terms of quality control, there are two executive chefs who “are the leaders from a culinary, kitchen and food standpoint,” DiGrigorio said. These rotating supervisors oversee the quality of the food served at the dining halls and can’t be missed in their tall white chef caps.

“We also have an operations director and a district manager who works on campus. They’re always out and about so they have that fresh perspective to go in and troubleshoot various issues that may arise,” DiGrigorio said.

DiGrigorio acknowledges that it can be difficult to keep tabs on everything since there have been so many recent changes. “Since 2009, we’ve had at least one major renovation every year if not more,” she said. “This is our first academic year when there have been no major changes.”


Perkins Complex at East Campus

But expansion plans loom once again as the attention shifts back to North Campus and East Campus with the new Manning School of Business and the Perkins Complex dormitory about to open. Honors students moving into University Suites at East will be pleased to know that a dining program will be integrated with the Hawk’s Nest retail food center.

“We have grown the entire Honors Program to a point where it can fill a whole residence hall,” Siegel said. “Next year, University Suites will become home to the Honors Program, so we’ll have 470 students living there that I hope will consider the renovated area their exclusive dining hall.”

The Hawk’s Nest “will become a double-duty dining hall while retaining some retail at the location with a meal swipe component on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” DiGregorio said. “It will be like a mini dining hall with a salad bar, deli and grill with an entrée option and seating for about 120.”

The Hawk’s Nest conversion to a hybrid facility should help accommodate the dining needs of University Suites residents and the additional 800 students moving into the new Perkins Complex. Hopefully, this new dining option will take some of the load off the Fox Hall dining facility.

“The university is expecting a sizable boom of activity and population on that side of campus,” DiGregorio said, so plans are underway to build a new retail center at Cumnock Hall, coming online by Fall of 2018.

“We’re going to start design soon to renovate Cumnock Auditorium into a dining facility,” said Siegel. “The project will allow us to put bathrooms that never existed on that floor, provide a central living room for students commuting to North Campus, and add a retail center much like the second floor of McGauvran–but not quite as large.”

As UMass Lowell continues its pattern of growth, Aramark’s ability to meet the needs of students has become a challenge–one that may require a stronger focus on communication. Siegel says that if there’s a problem, students can help their own cause by coming forward.

“We have a pretty high standard, but most of the time we don’t know what the problems are. If a student has a bad dining experience and they don’t tell anybody, we can’t fix it,” Siegel said. “It doesn’t matter what you want … tell us what you want and we’ll bend over backwards to get it for you.”

Dean of Student Affairs & Enrichment James Kohl, who oversees residential dining at UMass Lowell, agrees with Dean Siegel. “Sometimes students don’t complain and they’re not as vocal as they should be. If we’re going to make it good we need those student’s voices,” he said.

For assistance, the first and best avenue for general questions and generic feedback is to email, or go to where you can connect to the UMass Lowell University Dining Twitter, Instagram or facebook feeds.

For location specific inquiries, DiGregorio suggests that students complete the online feedback form at the link identified by the “Your Voice Counts” icon. One can also contact a manager at a specific dining hall. There are business cards at the swipe stations for this purpose.

“The university commits itself and expects Aramark to provide dining services at the same standard as every other aspect of this university and that is at a level of excellence. And anything short of that is something that we will all roll up our sleeves and address,” Siegel said.

Kohl co-chairs a dining steering committee that includes co-chair Aaron Bennos (Aramark), DiGregorio, Executive Chefs Mike Petit and Frank Hurley, UMass Lowell Residence Life student representatives, residence hall RAs and a student athlete.

“A lot of the information we discuss is brought to the group by the campus dining teams made up of RAs who represent what the residents have told them. Students that live in the residence halls can reach out to the RA on their floor and give feedback that way,” Kohl said.

Kohl also encourages students to talk to Residence Life staff and facility managers about dining related issues and to contact Aramark directly when there are questions, comments or concerns.

“We’re trying to find ways for students to be part of tailoring what their eating. I think that’s had some success although I’m sure we need to continue to work on that and continue to get the feedback,” Kohl said.

Students should also feel free to contact the Student Government Association Campus Environment Committee and members of the Residence Hall Association with information to help keep these and associated groups informed while keeping them abreast of any progress made in resolving issues of concern.

But challenges arising from the growth of the university are apparent. “The campus is growing so fast so it’s hard to make sure everyone knows everything. We’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff and some of it works well and sometimes you just keep trying,” DiGregorio said.

LHS site will feed Hamilton Canal vision

By George DeLuca
March 3, 2017

Last Tuesday, the City Council shortlisted the downtown and Cawley Stadium sites as possible locations for the new Lowell High School. The final selection will be made after completing a series of studies, including an analysis of the economic potential of the downtown site.

If the high school moves, it may be feasible to annex the site to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District increasing the available acreage from fifteen to twenty.


“It’s not about space, per se, it’s about people.” Steve Tello

Many feel that a new vision is needed with a more Lowell-centric marketing plan bearing a Lowell iHub style brand. “It’s an exciting opportunity. If the decision is made to move to Cawley, the city should be thinking about the property as an extension,” said Steve Tello, UMass Lowell senior associate vice chancellor of entrepreneurship and economic development.

Hamilton Canal adjoins the high school property via a historic walkway along the Merrimack Canal from Market Street to Lucy Larcom Park. “It’s about a nine iron away from the high school property, maybe an eight.” said State Representative Tom Golden.

Observers say joining the two sites may also foster direct linkages with UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center, the Wannalancit Mills Business Center, the Offices at Boott Mills, the entrepreneurial initiatives at UMass Lowell’s East and North campuses, and Middlesex Community College’s workforce development programs.

The concept presents some exciting possibilities, but there are also challenges. “The two sides of the canal are in very different places,” said Adam Baacke, UMass Lowell’s campus planning and development director and the former director of planning and development for the City of Lowell.


The Kirk Street side has potential for residential with some mixed-use and retention of the Irish Auditorium. Lucy Larcom Park becomes a gateway to the waterfront from one direction, and, to downtown Lowell and Hamilton Canal from the other.

Baacke said he believes there is potential for a residential project on Kirk Street that would generate tax revenue. “I think the market is almost exclusively for housing and residential redevelopment. It is a historical building and therefore eligible for historic tax credits which probably does create a viable redevelopment concept that the market will support,” he said.

A portion of the Kirk Street concept could be mixed-use, and twenty-percent of the units would have to be affordable to qualify a developer for tax credits that would “close the gap between development costs and what the actual market returns would be,” Baacke said.


The Arcand Drive side presents challenges that will require patience. But a mixed-use commercial and retail development has been discussed with the additional possibility of a municipal component.

However, Baacke said the Arcand Drive side of the high school property is more complex and he stresses the need for patience. “You can’t force market conditions just because you have a vision or a plan, but the absence of a vision or a plan almost guarantees that you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “We’d want to help the city make something happen there.”

Most agree that a clearer vision for economic development is needed in Lowell. Golden is currently pursuing $250,000 for planning purposes. But citing an innovative plan that Governor Charlie Baker will support isn’t an easy task. “One of the keys is trying to visualize what tomorrow is going to look like,” he said.


Catherine Pujols-Baxley, KnipBio, 110 Canal Street

The University of Massachusetts, Lowell is spearheading its own economic development vision, one that has global reach. Since 2008, the university has developed the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2), a business incubation research and development initiative located at the Wannalancit Mills Business Center.

M2D2 has recently expanded its operations to 110 Canal Street at Hamilton Canal. “It’s a place where there’s room to grow if we’re successful in attracting start-up companies from different parts of New England to Lowell,” Tello said.

To execute his vision, Tello raised $5.5 million to fit-up two floors at the 110 Canal Street site, allocating one floor to the M2D2 program and another to a new tech initiative called the UMass Lowell iHub. “Once we got it built and operating, we had to recruit the companies, develop the operating model, and make sure there’s a positive cash flow,” he said.


110 Canal Street at the Hamilton Canal Innovation District

Tello has recruited 20 companies, filling fifty percent of 22,000 square feet of the space. He expects the other half to be occupied within the year. “We’re doing our part to get innovation and industry moving in Lowell,” he said.

Tello, a member of the Hamilton Canal planning committee, said the group wants to create a mini-Kendall Square style concept that he hopes “will attract a mix of tech and commercial companies, with some residential, retail and restaurant activity built-in. That’s why the vision is so important. It’s not about space per se, it’s about people,” he said. “It’s about how many people you have living in an area; what their professional background, educational level, and income bracket is, and what kind of work they want to do. And if we have the right mix of people willing to come into town, then developers will build.”

Lowell City Councilor Jim Leary agrees that there’s room for mixed use at Hamilton Canal including residential. “Lots 8 and 9 next to 110 Canal Street are relatively tiny lots compared to the rest of the development and could be designated residential,” he said. “We need to build what the millennials will care about, those people in their 20s and 30s who have income to spend and want amenities like Mill 5. Later they can move up and buy houses elsewhere in the city.”


New courthouse construction is well underway at Hamilton Canal.

The new courthouse at Hamilton Canal will bring about 1,500 people a day to the facility, according to Tello. A commercial build-out of the site could bring another 1,500-2,500 people. The high school property could yield up to 400 residents and another 500-1,000 people on the retail/commercial side depending on the configuration. In total, up to 4,500 people per day could be coming to the downtown area within the next 5-8 years.

Eventually, Tello hopes to attract larger companies like M2D2 sponsors Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific to the area. “It’s going to be two years before we see another building in the Hamilton Canal area. If we can get someone excited about a new building and get something open in two years, I think the timing could work out for the high school property,” he said.

Tello said that consolidating the two sites would enhance downtown walkability and facilitate access to the Merrimack River, but he also noted that the city’s biggest amenity is virtually invisible.

Companies want to know “where do my employees live, and where do they work and play? I’m not sure we have that all together yet for them,” Tello said. “It’s all in how you wrap it, how it’s packaged. There needs to be a vision that will attract people to the table. You need attractions and reasons to walk somewhere. We need to leverage our river by showcasing it more.”

Citizens group touts Cawley campus site for Lowell High School

by George DeLuca
February 3, 2017


“Citizens for Cawley” group members Eric Nelson, Dan Finn, and Marty Tighe

A group of Belvidere parents would like to see a new Lowell High School built at the Cawley Stadium site in Belvidere, and not at the current downtown location. “It’s a misconception that the people of Belvidere don’t want the high school in their neighborhood. The tide is changing. There’s a younger family base in Belvidere and we want the high school at Cawley Stadium,” said Belvidere resident Marty Tighe.

Tighe is a member of “Citizens for Cawley,” an advocacy group formed to spearhead the effort to build the new high school at the Cawley Stadium site. The fledgling organization was formed by Belvidere residents, but the group is working to inform people of all neighborhoods in the city.

The group recently met with Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier, who was impressed with their passion and willingness to act. “These are the people that are fighting for their neighborhood, saying, ‘this is what we want.’ I admire anybody who comes forward to do this. It isn’t easy to campaign. And these people work and have young children. That’s a lot and I admire that,” she said.


Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier at her home in Belvidere

Mercier, a Belvidere resident herself, was surprised by the position and initial findings of the group. “I was under the impression Belvidere people didn’t want it here and that’s just not true. There’s a lot of people that do want it. Don’t tell me and portray a message that nobody wants it in Belvidere. That’s not true,” she said.

When the group approached Mercier, she suggested they circulate a petition to gauge public interest in moving the high school to the Cawley site. Each member is now gathering signatures in neighborhoods throughout the city.

One of the group’s leaders, Eric Nelson is canvassing his neighborhood in Belvidere, but he’s also encouraged by the positive reaction of the people in the other neighborhoods of Lowell. “It’s a weekend effort, so we’ve only gone around a couple of days. We have about 200-300 signatures right now and we’re hearing positive things,” he said.

A cost analysis that breaks down all remaining options has been released to the public. Details will be discussed publically at a special meeting of the City Council School Building Committee on February 7 at 10 a.m. at the mayor’s reception room in City Hall, and again that evening at the City Council meeting. The following night, the results will be discussed at the Belvidere Neighborhood Group meeting at the Sullivan Middle School auditorium at 6:30 p.m.

Mercier is studying all available information about the alternatives including those that impact the students, parents, downtown businesses, the tax base, and city marketing. “I have to balance the pros and cons before I make a final decision,” she said.

The “Citizens for Cawley” feel that the downtown location would not be a feasible site due to ultra-difficult logistics and the high potential for delays and cost overruns.

The most active participants in the group are parents with elementary and middle school age children. Their main concern is that any project on the current site may disrupt and damage their children’s high school experience irreparably.

The three group members interviewed for this story have ten children among them, “and they’re all facing high school age so this issue is at the forefront of our mind. We also all grew up in the city and we decided to stay in Lowell, so for the short term we don’t want our kids in mobile classrooms,” Tighe said.

Lowell City Councilor Dan Rourke has school aged children in the fifth and eighth grades who will be directly affected by the decision. “One day in a modular classroom is one day too many,” he said.


Ken Delisle (LHS class of ’62) signs petition for Eric Nelson

Nelson is finding that most Lowell residents aren’t aware of the details of the project, the options that are available, and the negative impacts of orchestrating a $330 million (more-or-less) construction project on-site with school in session. “People need to think about the ramifications of putting the kids through a mobile classroom experience over a four to five-year period,” he said.

Belvidere resident Dan Finn agrees. “I have a fourteen-year-old that will be going to the high school next year, and I have a three-year-old that will be going there in ten years. I don’t want either of them to experience high school in a modular building. I do want them to experience high school in a classroom setting most conducive to learning,” he said.

Mercier recognizes that a four to five-year building project at the current location may have a negative impact on a student’s education experience. “It may affect their ability to learn and it’s a lot of stress on people. I don’t know about all this disruption,” she said.

On the other hand, group members are excited about the benefits of having recreation and sports grounds and fields right on campus. Mercier shares their enthusiasm. “Isn’t it amazing that all the athletic fields are right there? There are many students that would like to take part in sports, but they don’t have a way to get out there. That may keep kids occupied after school and there may be a greater emphasis on sports,” she said.

The “Citizens for Cawley” are hoping that the city council will approve a modern, efficient, integrated academic and athletic campus style experience. “What’s best for the whole city is a brand-new state-of-the-art self-contained campus project at Cawley where there’s access from every corner of the City,” Nelson said.

Rourke remains open minded about the ultimate location of the high school, but he clearly wants a new facility. “This is our last chance for the next fifty to seventy-five years. While people differ on location, the overwhelming sentiment of the public is we need a brand new state-of-the-art high school,” he said. “The Cawley option is intriguing because it offers a campus lifestyle for all students.”

One issue drawing heated discussion throughout the city is the need for a traffic study and remediation plan, regardless of the chosen location.

“Obviously, the city would have to work with the neighborhoods with respect to traffic to alleviate any concerns,” Rourke said.

Mercier is aware that a new high school at the Cawley site poses traffic issues, but she’s confident they can be worked out. As a member of the decision-making team, she wants to hear from people of all neighborhoods so that she can take a position that best benefits the entire city.

“When people consider moving to the City of Lowell, the very first question they ask is ‘how’s your educational system?’ That’s their number one factor for moving here,” Mercier said. “It’s not about the quality of life of the people of Belvidere. I don’t know any neighborhood that hasn’t been inconvenienced by traffic. That’s part of life. This is about what’s good for the city as a whole.”