Years in the making, and shovels finally hit dirt yesterday as the construction phase begins on the Boston and Maine restoration project, a development that will take more than 18 months to complete. But at the end of that 18 months, Middlesex Community College will have a new academic arts center, with an historic home for our theater, dance, and music programs!
The long-awaited kick off to construction was spotlighted on Monday with a fun-filled event that included more than 150 of the college's community and business partners, and most significantly, about two dozen of our uber-talented drama students, many of whom reprised their roles from some of the college's past theatrical performances such as Batboy, Godspell, and Sweeney Todd. (Not to mention a certain play of Shakespeare's, that, thanks to theater superstition, no one was allowed to refer to by name during yesterday's event, calling it instead the Scottish Play.)
"Middlesex has a history of preserving historic buildings," said MCC President James Mabry. "This beautiful new facility will be a wonderful addition to our Lowell campus and will help our performing arts students continue to find success."
MCC is working with architects at Leers-Weinzapfel www.lwa-architects.com and Consigli Construction to create a multi-purpose space for college and community use. The renovation project will cost a total of approximately $19 million - $11 million from a 2007 Higher Education Capital Bond Bill and $8 million from the college. Construction is expected to last at least 18 months,with an eye toward starting classes in the new facility in the fall of 2017.
The new center at 240 Central St., a gateway to downtown Lowell, will house a proscenium theater that will descend from the first floor into the basement, and seat nearly 180 people, as well as second floor music and dance recital halls, along with classrooms. Although the Boston and Maine will primarily be a teaching facility, Middlesex anticipates making the space available to Lowell's burgeoning arts community and the college's many community partners.
The building was built in 1876. Designed in the high Victorian Gothic style, the building served as the Boston and Maine Railroad's Central Street depot for the city of Lowell until 1895 when a new station was constructed nearby. It originally encompassed more than an acre of land. The depot consisted of a two-story brick headhouse with a clock tower at the south end of the facade. Originally, the building played home to offices and other depot uses. Historic photographs indicate that express companies, printing offices, a tailor shop, and the Western Union telegraph company leased space at the depot during the 1800s.
From 1895 until 1913, portions of the building were used as a cotton and wood storehouse. In 1913, the Boston and Maine Railroad company leased the building out for use as the Owl Theater, which became the Rialto theater in 1920. In 1934, the building was foreclosed upon, and the new owner changed several structural facets of the building. In 1955, a portion of the building was destroyed by fire, and was subsequently torn down in the early 1960s. In the 1960s, the RIalto was converted into a bowling alley and a billiards parlor. Other occupants of the building included music teachers, barbers, florists, real estate agents, and a paint supply store. In the 1970s, the building served as Paul Tsongas' congressional campaign office.
In 1984, more portions of the building were demolished, until the Lowell Historic Board stopped full demolition due to the building's architecture. In 1989, the building's owner donated the property to the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, who in turn transferred ownership to the Lowell National Historical Park and the federal government.
Middlesex acquired the property from the federal government in 2008.
Joining President Mabry to address the crowd were U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Senator Eileen Donoghue, State Representative David Nangle, State Representative Thomas Golden, Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott, Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy, and Lowell National Historical Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo.
Special thanks to the planning committee that pulled together Monday's event, which featured a luncheon provided by Boston and Maine neighbors Elliott's Hot Dogs and Espresso's Pizza.
MCC students, take a bow, and dig in!
To learn more about MCC's new academic arts center and to watch photos of the construction unfold at the Boston and Maine, visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/bostonandmaine
Let's shine that spotlight on one of the 29 Who Shine for Massachusetts Public Higher Education, our own Yerkely Gomez!
A native of the Dominican Republic and a resident of Lawrence, Yerkely has shown a great sensitivity to the environmental challenges facing the Merrimack Valley. Through his volunteer work with the Gulf of Maine Institute, he has given time to the MCC campus recycling program, Lowell's Earth Day, and other environmental improvement initiatives.
He is a member of the Paul Sullivan Leadership Institute, which helps promising student leaders grow as citizens. He plans to continue his education at a four-year university.
His faculty/staff mentor at MCC has been Willy Ramirez, the college's Support Transition Specialist.
Super job, Yerkely! We're busting our buttons over your accomplishments!