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UMass Lowell celebrates the reopening of Coburn Hall, its oldest building. UMass officials cut the ribbon in front of Coburn Hall.
UMass Lowell celebrates the reopening of Coburn Hall, its oldest building. UMass officials cut the ribbon in front of Coburn Hall.
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LOWELL — UMass Lowell celebrated the reopening of its oldest building Wednesday, welcoming visitors to see the results of a $47 million renovation project.

UML officials cut the ribbon on Coburn Hall, which was reopened to students in spring 2020, but the official reopening ceremony was delayed due to the pandemic.

“At UMass Lowell, education is at the heart of everything we do and Coburn Hall is the anchor of who we are,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. “I’m so proud that so many of you are here with us to see this magnificently restored building that now includes cutting-edge classrooms and technologies alongside historic artworks and architecture, all to enhance our students’ experience and enrich our engagement in the greater Lowell community.”

The original Coburn Hall was opened in 1897 as the Lowell Normal School, which was founded to train teachers during the American Industrial Revolution. It now houses the university’s education department, as well as classrooms and laboratories for the psychology department.

The renovation and restoration project added a makerspace, a design and discovery center, a model classroom, seminar rooms and psychology laboratories. A 1930s mural of the city was also uncovered and restored in the building’s ballroom, where it had been painted over in the 1980s.

The project also added a 15,000-square-foot addition to the back of the building, bringing the total size of the building to close to 79,000 square feet.

The new building has been recognized with an American School and University Award for outstanding design of a renovation or modernization project, and the university is pursuing a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

“Whether the Lowell Normal School in 1894 or UMass Lowell today, the tie to this city and this region has always been inseparable from this university’s mission. Coburn Hall was the birthplace of that mission,” said UMass President Marty Meehan, himself a graduate of the Lowell campus and its former chancellor.

Meehan recalled his time as a student and later a professor in Coburn Hall, saying that it represented the university’s history.

One jewel among the refurbished spaces is a ballroom that includes a remarkable Works Progress Administration-era mural that was painted in the 1930s but had been covered under coats of beige paint since the 1980s. Rediscovered in 2015 by UMass Lowell art Professor Marie Frank, the mural’s restoration emerged as a priority in the Coburn Hall project. Leading that effort was Gianfranco Pocobene, the chief conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, who worked painstakingly to uncover and repair the mural, which depicts iconic scenes of the city of Lowell and its people.

Coburn Hall is the latest in a series of major building projects at the university.

UMass Lowell education student Michael Aloisi of Townsend recognized the legacy of the building’s original architect, Frederick Stickney, who also designed many public buildings throughout the city, including Lowell High School.

“In the 1890s, when Frederick Stickney designed the original blueprints of what we now call Coburn Hall, he had no idea of the legacy he was creating and the teachers he was paving the way for,” said Aloisi, who serves as president of the school’s chapter of the Student Education Association and as a member of the School of Education advisory board. “In the building he designed, young women and men are now training to become teachers, even during a global pandemic, working to bring love and inclusion to those who need it the most.”

Several UMass Lowell alumni and friends provided generous support to the project.

“It is a proud moment for UMass Lowell to open the doors once again to Coburn Hall — 123 years young, rich in history and bursting with promise as the center for educational impact,” said UMass Lowell alumna Joan Marchessault, a 2000 graduate who holds a doctorate in leadership in schooling. The co-founder and principal of Strategic Leadership Group Inc. in New Castle, N.H., Marchessault serves on the Chancellor’s Advisory Council and was recognized during the event with the unveiling of Coburn Hall’s new Marchessault Family Doctoral Suite Foyer.