Talk of dorms fended off – for now – by UMass Boston

It’s going to be dirty, dusty and noisy. That was the message from UMass Boston officials on Tuesday night as they laid out plans for the Columbia Point campus’s coming construction boom days before a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Kennedy Institute on the U.S. Senate.

But the prospect of dormitories, which campus officials have repeatedly characterized as part of a master plan but years away, continues to loom large as a top state senator who has stymied past efforts to bring student housing to the campus spoke up at a community meeting held in McCormack Hall on the university campus.

“It’s a discussion we must have,” said Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston).

Hart said questions remain from the last debate over dorms: How will they change the mission of the school and the type of student attending UMass Boston? And what will be their effect on students in Dorchester’s neighborhoods?

“I think we need to fully vet these questions in the neighborhoods,” said Hart, whose words were echoed by City Councillor Maureen Feeney.

Arthur Bernard, the school’s vice chancellor for government relations and public affairs and former chief of staff to Gov. Deval Patrick, said that the Tuesday night forum was largely focused on the integrated sciences complex the campus is building. Of dorms, he said, “We will continue to have that conversation.”

When pressed by Hart, Bernard said he would be in touch with him and added that dorms have been part of the community process around the campus’s master plan, and that discussions are “ongoing.”

Susan Wolfson, director of master planning at the university, stressed that the academic buildings that will be under construction the next few years are the campus’s priority. “We need to achieve that before we can move forward with residence halls,” she said.

Dorothy Renaghan, assistant vice chancellor for facilities, told the crowd of several dozen local residents, UMass community members, and elected officials that the university hopes to have the sciences complex open for classes by Sept. 2013. Fencing will go up next week, with pile-driving occurring over the next few months.

The impact of trucks bringing in materials on the area’s roads is still being discussed with Boston’s Transportation Department. The trucks will be arriving through the expressway and Morrissey Blvd., then onto Bianculli Blvd., Renaghan said.

Construction will take place Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some Saturday and holiday work expected.

Workers will attempt to keep the noise level as low as possible, below the 70 decibels a day allowed by a city ordinance.

UMass officials also said they’re in the early stages of putting together a community planning meeting, likely in May, on the campus’s plans for using the Bayside Exposition Center. The expo center, which the university purchased last year, is now being used for parking.

Asked what will happen to the massive steel sculpture known as “Huru,” located on the field where the sciences complex will be built, UMass officials said they haven’t decided where to put it. “Huru” translates into both “hello” and “goodbye” in an aboriginal Australian language.

“We expect it will be welcoming something somewhere,” Renaghan said. “The plan isn’t done yet on that one.”