September 16, 2015
If You Build It, They Will Come
One year later, University Crossing living up to promise
They’d thought of everything. Monorails. Cable cars. Even water taxis. When it came to brainstorming ways to bring the three campuses together, university leaders left no idea unturned over the years.
And yet, in the end, the solution was right there under their nose on the corner of Pawtucket and Merrimack streets, a six-acre parcel where St. Joseph’s Hospital once stood.
“When this property became available, it was a no-brainer,” says Assoc. Vice Chancellor Larry Siegel, who for nearly 30 years had been part of those discussions on how to connect North, South and East campuses. “We didn’t know what we were going to do with it, but we knew we had to have it. We talked about making it a residence hall, academic space, all of the above, and then we ended up doing this.”
“This” is University Crossing, the 230,000-square-foot, $95 million student-engagement center that opened one year ago. Designed to be many things to many different people, the bright and airy four-story building has quickly lived up to its billing as the heart of campus life.
For students, it’s a place to register for classes, pay a bill, buy textbooks, work on their resume, grab some lunch and attend a club meeting — all in one visit if need be. For potential students and their parents, it’s a stunning first impression that sets the tone for their campus visit. For faculty, staff and administrators, it’s a central space for small meetings and major campus events.
“It certainly accomplished all the goals we set out to achieve,” says Siegel, whose Student Affairs office was one of more than 20 that relocated to University Crossing last summer. “What is in this building today used to be in 11 different buildings on three different campuses. This created the central student space that became the living room for the students.”
The migration of so many departments and offices to University Crossing has, in turn, opened up 60,000 square feet of classroom space across campus, room needed to accommodate the growing student enrollment.
From the River Hawk Shop, Solution Center and Crossroads Cafe on the first floor, to the Jacqueline and Edward J. Moloney Jr. Ballroom and Club Hub on the second and third floors, to the Chancellor’s Suite on the fourth floor, University Crossing has indeed become the campus’s town common.
“This has lived up to its idea of a place where students can feel like they’re a part of something a little bit bigger than themselves,” says Assistant Dean of Students Mary Connelly, who oversees building operations.
Assistant Director of Student Affairs Adam Dunbar, who handles the building’s space requests, says students have gradually realized what they can do with places like the Club Hub, which can accommodate more than 200 student organizations. It’s a far cry from when Dunbar was an undergrad trying to hold Student Government Association meetings in a cramped room in Bourgeois Hall.
“To see this come to fruition is unreal. I can’t believe I get to work here,” says Dunbar, who cites the collaborative spirit he’s seen in the new building as one of his reasons for establishing an endowed scholarship last year. “This space is the culmination of everything I’d ever hoped for. As an alum, it makes me want to give back.”
Student Trustee and former SGA President Amanda Robinson says student involvement will only flourish thanks to the convenience of University Crossing. “It’s just what we needed,” she says. “It’s a great home where all students are welcome.”
Bookstore business booming
If it seems like more people are wearing River Hawk gear lately, you’re not mistaken. Sales of team apparel jumped 61 percent (to $937,183) from June 2014 to June 2015, which nearly coincides with the first year of business at the River Hawk Shop.
“We’ve blown away what we thought we were going to do, especially in clothing and gift sales,” says River Hawk Shop Director Ginger Defino, whose biggest challenge has been keeping the shelves stocked. “We keep getting new merchandise in all the time, and it’s fun to watch people go through and get excited about what we have.”
Overall, the bookstore rang up $5.9 million in sales for the 12-month period ending in June. That’s an 11 percent increase over the previous year, when the bookstore was spread over three locations on North Campus, South Campus and downtown.
“Having everything in this building is a lot more convenient for students,” Defino says. “This has been a dream spot.”
The bookstore’s prominent corner location has also made it a popular spot for book signings and other community engagement events, something Defino says she would like to build on.
“There’s no other bookstore in the vicinity, so we’re hoping people come here on a regular basis,” she says.
Finding a solution
For students, one of the biggest benefits of University Crossing is the Solution Center, the all-in-one, first-floor walk-in location that combines services for the offices of the registrar, financial aid and student financial services.
Since opening in November, the Solution Center has handled approximately 100,000 service interactions either in person, on the phone or on its new website, according to Director Tara Torrey.
“To have one central location where students can come and speak with a cross-trained specialist, it really enhances the services,” says Torrey, whose 15-person staff includes 12 Solution Center specialists. “We’re getting a quicker turnaround and students are not being bounced from office to office.”
Through the use of the customer relations management system SalesForce, Torrey says the Solution Center can now track all student interactions, no matter when or how they come in.
“It gives us a 360-degree view on a student and eliminates the time spent explaining the situation,” says Torrey, who adds that the Solution Center’s new walk-in system, which allows students to check in and then be notified by email when it’s their turn to be helped, will also help save time.
A collaborative effort
With its reflected natural light, green roofs and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, University Crossing is a LEED-certified testament to sustainable construction. But it’s also a shining example of the collaborative spirit necessary for so many different programs and departments to successfully come together under one roof.
That collaborative spirit was recognized this summer when University Crossing received the “People’s Choice Award” at the International Facility Management Boston Awards for Excellence.
“It’s a beautiful building, but what makes it successful is the programming,” says Director of Capital Projects Jean Robinson, who credits Special Adviser on Capital and Space Planning Deborah Poodry and Project Managers Maria Morrissey and Dirk van Luling for piecing together the “huge jigsaw puzzle” so efficiently. “For me, this project represents the transformation that the university has been going through, the culture of collaboration and our commitment to the student experience.”
“This is a building that literally serves everybody,” Siegel says from his second-floor office overlooking the main entrance. “We’ve created all this academic space that allows us to rightsize our academic programs, we’ve created much-needed programming space and we’ve helped clean up the city, to boot. It’s a pretty remarkable story.”