On-campus: A mix of reactions from UMass Boston students

Students use shuttle buses to connect to the UMass Boston main campus from the Bayside lot on Thurs., Feb. 14, 2019. Yukun Zhang photo for the Reporter

On the day that UMass Boston announced its lease agreement with the Accordia Partners, LLC to redevelop the former Bayside Expo Center, the immediate reaction from students on the Dorchester campus was mixed.

Several students who spoke to the Reporter said that they wanted to know more about the deal and questioned whether the project — which officials estimate could yield some $235 million for the university— will have tangible near-term benefits for the student body.

Upon hearing the initial reports of the lease agreement, most said the profits from the project should help lower the costs of attending the school or that the development should provide more dormitory space for students who want to live on-campus.

Marvin David Reyes, who commutes to the campus from Lynn, said most students do not come from wealthy families. UMass should make parking and tuition more affordable if it’s getting money from the deal, he said. A few other students also noted the recent hike in parking fees and hoped the project would bring the cost down.

Damien Phoenix, a freshman, and senior Wanasha Fahie both said the site could be used to build more dorms for students.

Nelson Reyes, a senior who lives in Hyde Park, said it’s good that the university’s investment is bringing such a strong return. But he wants to know if the project means more money for the school officials or benefits for the entire community.

“What would the demographic of this new neighborhood look like? Would it be gentrified? Would it push out families who can’t afford to live there?” Reyes asked. “Or would it be something that is useful for everyone in the community?”

Philip Jean Louis, a social psychology senior, questions the “secrecy” around the project. He said residents and students in the area have the right to know what changes are being planned.

Some want the school to rethink the project.

“I think the priorities just aren’t straight,” said Dante Chiacchia, a junior in environmental science. He said the school should fix the potholes in the Harborwalk and pay to clean the bathrooms in Wheatley Hall first.

Chelsea Ribeiro, a senior in the College of Management, worries that the project will “cause so much traffic to this little stretch of land that already has to deal with more traffic it can handle.”

Ribeiro is skeptical that the Bayside re-development will benefit the students in the long run. She would prefer that the university partner with businesses that could address the need of the students, such as commercial dining.

“They are trying to run this university like a business, but they are not doing a good job of that,” she said.

On Wednesday, a group of UMass Boston faculty circulated an open letter criticizing the deal, saying its terms weren't shared with the school community and that more needed to be done to address legacy debt at the Boston campus.

The letter, signed by professors Reyes Coll-Tellechea, Marlene Kim, Lisa Rivera, Zong-Guo Xia and Jeffrey Melnick, said leasing Bayside "might help a little, but only in the short term."

"UMB needs adequate State support to pay off the 'legacy debt,' not more borrowed money to be paid back by raises in student tuition and fees; and if the University of Massachusetts system is not able or willing to address the Boston campus needs and mission appropriately, then the system structure is no longer working properly and it ought to be officially assessed. It would be foolish and unjust to undermine the progress it has made in many decades of service to the City of Boston, the Commonwealth, and the communities it serves," the professors wrote.

State House News Service reporting contributed to this story.