News 2023: College of Engineering and College of Visual and Performing Arts students join forces to revitalize Fall River waterfront

News 2023: College of Engineering and College of Visual and Performing Arts students join forces to revitalize Fall River waterfront
College of Engineering and College of Visual and Performing Arts students join forces to revitalize Fall River waterfront

Students in civil engineering and interior architecture and design work together to benefit the city's future and leave their mark on the SouthCoast.

Group photo of students with Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan
UMass Dartmouth students with Professor Jon Mellor, Professor Stephanie McGoldrick, Fall River City Engineer Dan Aguiar, and Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan

On December 13, UMass Dartmouth students from the College of Engineering (COE) and the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) gathered at the Fall River Government Center to present their proposals for how to develop the Fall River waterfront. In attendance were a number of city officials including Mayor Paul Coogan '76, City Engineer Dan Aguiar '94, City Administrator Seth Aitken, Director of Community Utilities Paul Ferland '06, and members of the Fall River Redevelopment Authority. Also in attendance was David Lunny of the global architecture firm Stantec, who recently won the bid to manage the waterfront redevelopment project.  

The students' presentations marked the culmination of a semester-long collaboration between COE and CVPA. With the help of the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, Professors Jonathan Mellor (civil and environmental engineering) and Stephanie McGoldrick (interior architecture and design) teamed up to offer their students the chance to take on a project with real-world implications.  

The Route 79 Improvement Project reconfigured the Route 79-Davol Street corridor in Fall River and freed up 17 acres of developable land along the city's waterfront. Working in teams composed of both engineers and designers, students were tasked with creating plans for how to develop that land into a walkable neighborhood that will become a commercial and recreational destination for city residents and visitors alike. Using the city's vision as a guide, the teams developed detailed proposals that addressed community needs, accessibility requirements, sustainability standards, climate mitigation and resilience, and economic viability.  

A public university working with the city for the public good 

UMass Dartmouth's partnership with the city of Fall River on the redevelopment project was facilitated by the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement. "The Leduc Center was opened with a vision of being the bridge between learning and community," said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Career & Civic Engagement Matthew Roy. "We see our role as maximizing the active learning opportunities of our faculty and students that benefit the community. Both professors Mellor and McGoldrick have been a part of our faculty service-learning fellows program. I grew up in Fall River and have a long-standing relationship with Mayor Coogan. Among 3 or 4 potential projects available to the faculty, they felt this one was best to challenge students, maximize learning, and make a tangible impact for our community." 

A class of 1976 alumnus of UMass Dartmouth (then Southeastern Massachusetts University), Coogan remarked, "This is one of the biggest redevelopment projects in the SouthCoast region. We are pleased to know that our city can depend on UMass Dartmouth as a partner." 

Visions for Fall River's future

The goal of the waterfront redevelopment is to boost the city's economic development and improve quality of life in the community. The student teams focused not only on what to put there and the logistics for how to do it, but also how their plans will fuel economic growth in the city for years to come. 

Presentations featured detailed visualizations of their designs, including video walkthroughs. 

Each team shared their plans for one of four parcels of land along the Taunton River, including detailed design concepts, parking plans, drainage and storm water treatment, wayfinding, as well as how to capitalize on the existing features of the area like the views of Braga Bridge and proximity to the MBTA station.

Proposed uses for the land include a performing arts center, an amphitheater, festival space, art studios, restaurants, gardens and green space, retail shops, a boutique hotel, outdoor recreation areas, and more. In the age of social media, teams also considered how Instagram-worthy murals and photo opportunities could help market the space and attract visitors. 

Among the most important factors taken into account are the short- and long-term effects of climate change on the waterfront property. "Civil engineers and architects are on the front lines of climate adaptation and mitigation, and how cities adjust to the effects of climate change and take steps to reduce the severity of future damage," said Mellor, who teaches a civil engineering course on climate resilience.  

Students also discussed a number of sustainability measures such as green roofs, solar panels, rainwater collection, as well as figures on how quickly the cost of installation would be offset by energy cost savings. 

Real-world experience and interdisciplinary collaboration 

The Fall River waterfront redevelopment project demonstrated the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and exposed students to the realities of a large-scale operation. In addition to developing their plans, students gained practice pitching to a client, considering the diverse constituencies who will be affected, and working together with team members from different fields. 

"These disciplines don't exist in silos," McGoldrick said. "Most projects in the field are interdisciplinary. In the 'real world,' you'll be working together with teams of different kinds of experts to get things done. So, for our IAD students, this interaction with engineers is valuable." 

"Employers are looking for students that can demonstrate both hard skills (knowledge in their discipline) and soft skills (ability to communicate and collaborate). This project demands cross-fertilization of knowledge between two disciplines and thereby demonstrates both hard and soft skills," said Roy. "The city will have some excellent design ideas and the students will feel empowered to make a difference in the future."

"One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was working with civil engineers," said interior architecture and design student Morgan Palm '24. "As interior architecture and design students, we're used to working with indoor spaces, so this was a much bigger challenge. It was fascinating to see how our different perspectives affect one another as we figure out all the moving parts." 

"It was a great experience learning about architecture and getting a designer's perspective as we developed our plans" said graduate civil and environmental engineering student Veronica Kamindla.  

As the Route 79-Davol Street Corridor Redevelopment moves forward, students may see their ideas incorporated into the architects' final design plan. Lunny praised the students' proposals and collaboration: "Solving a problem this large takes many hands. You accomplish something of this magnitude by working together and learning from each other. That's how the real world works, and that's what you've shown us here."