Impressive Set of Core Campus Improvements, including Student Union and Worcester Commons, Will Be Ready for the Spring Semester

Student Union Interior
Student businesses and student government representatives now in the process of moving into their new spaces in the renovated Student Union, which is set to open in February 2021.
Student Union ballroom
Student Union staircase

As UMass Amherst looks ahead to the start of the spring semester, students, faculty and staff who return to learn and work in person will encounter a transformed center of campus following the completion of a series of major construction projects. Among the marquee projects are the renovated Student Union, the new Worcester Commons, a major upgrade to campus infrastructure and striking landscape improvements.

“These long-planned projects are now coming to fruition, and they are going to markedly improve the student experience at UMass Amherst,” said Shane Conklin, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services. “We are, of course, implementing COVID-related restrictions for the spring, but people will immediately benefit and in the long term these investments will have an even greater positive impact for decades to come.”

Campus Core Utilities, Landscape and Accessibility Project

A major infrastructure project in the center of campus immediately north and west of the Lincoln Campus Center was completed early in the Fall Semester. The Campus Core Utilities, Landscape and Accessibility Project is a $31 million undertaking with major underground infrastructure investments, as well as accessibility and landscape improvements, which was started in May 2019. The project includes the waterproofing of the parking garage’s subterranean roof systems, as well as new steam, data and electric duct banks, domestic and fire water services, storm drainage, sanitary sewer and other utilities that feed approximately 100 buildings. Many of the utilities replaced were more than 75 years old.

Given the extent of earth removal required to install the new underground infrastructure, campus planners also identified an opportunity to address accessibility issues in the campus core and integrate comprehensive landscape improvements. The enhancements include an accessible entrance to the garage, an accessible west entrance to the Campus Center, and an accessible pedestrian path from the Student Union to the Worcester Commons.

New Worcester Commons

Earlier this fall, the new 87,000-square-foot Worcester Commons, which replaces the old Worcester Dining Commons, was opened on a limited basis for student dining, with reduced seating capacity due to COVID-19 safety protocols. When the facility eventually is fully operational, it will be able to seat more than 950 people in various dining areas. It will feature residential, grab-and-go, retail and restaurant dining options as well as a campus bakery. The building will also house a Neighborhood Center of student spaces, including lounge space, meeting space for students and student organizations, music practice rooms, a contemplative space and a fitness room. It also includes a new campus restaurant.

The $68.8 million project is expected to be fully completed, with landscaping and new parking lots, before the start of the spring 2021 semester. It is targeted to be certified LEED Gold for sustainability.

Student Union

Progress continues on the comprehensive renovation of the Student Union, with student businesses and student government representatives now in the process of moving into their new spaces. The building is expected to officially open in February 2021. The $64.2 million project to update the 1957 building includes a rain harvesting system, which was requested by the student body, and it is targeted to be LEED Silver for sustainability. Students approved a $100 increase in the student activities fee to partially fund the renovation in December 2017.

The building will feature a Main Street promenade that will be a hub of student activity, a black box theatre, and a new, third-floor ballroom. The facility is designed to be the “student living room” of the campus, and will provide comfortable and expansive space to gather, informally and formally, and will support the endeavors of more than 200 student organizations.

Once open, the Student Union will house:

  • Student Organization Resource Center (SORC)
  • Center for Education Policy & Advocacy (CEPA)
  • Student Bridges
  • UVC-TV-19
  • WMUA
  • The Daily Collegian
  • University Program Council (UPC)
  • Student Government Association (SGA)
  • The Craft Center
  • Student Union Art Gallery
  • Earth Foods
  • People’s Market
  • The Bike Co-op
  • Campus Design and Copy (CDC)
  • Center for Student Businesses (CSB)
  • Religious and Spiritual Life Council
  • The Muslim Student Association (MSA)
  • Arts & Media Council
  • Academic Council
  • Service Engagement Council
  • Greek Council
  • Cultural Council
  • Political & Advocacy Council
  • Recreation Council
  • Club Sports Council
  • Student Activities and Involvement (SAI)Student Engagement Leadership (SEL)

When the Student Union was built more than 60 years ago, it was the largest building on campus, serving 4,800 students. Today, the campus has more than 31,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Given that growth, the upgraded facility will provide students with modern spaces to meet 21st century needs and build community in new ways.

Additional Project: University Drive

A project to improve University Drive was completed in the Fall 2020 Semester. Changes include complete new paving and bike lanes, improved drainage, new sidewalks and a roundabout at Fearing Street to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety in the Southwest Residential Area.