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MassBay eyes downtown Framingham for new campus

Posted by John Swinconeck  August 20, 2013 03:12 PM

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MassBay Community College wants to relocate its Framingham campus to the downtown. Where it will go, however, may not be known until early next year.

The state’s Division of Capital Asset Management will determine what sites are suitable for a new campus. College President John O’Donnell said he expects to acquire property by late 2013 to early 2014.

The current Framingham campus houses MassBay's health sciences division, which includes the college's nursing, early childhood education, and human services programs, in addition to radiologic technology and surgical technology laboratories.

Town Manager Robert Halpin said MassBay can play a "transformational role" consistent with Framingham's vision for a thriving downtown. He cited Middlesex Community College's Lowell campus, which consists of several buildings in the city's downtown.

MassBay received $22 million in capital funding from the state in October 2012, and MassBay is seeking another $14 million from the legislature, O’Donnell said. MassBay will bond an additional $23 million.

The college wants a facility with 160,000 square feet of space with nearly 900 parking spaces.

Business owners have welcomed the idea of having a community college as neighbors, said Holli Andrews,executive director of Framingham Downtown Renaissance, an organization that seeks to aid the development of the downtown. More people on the streets could also make the downtown area safer, Andrews said, as students and staff "stay and explore a little bit" in the downtown.

"They're going to bring a new set of people with reasons to shop and dine in the downtown," Andrews said.

The Urban Land Institute had recommended earlier this year that MassBay relocate into the heart of Framingham's downtown, at the corner of Howard and Concord streets.

That area is currently home to the Downtown Common, as well as a branch of the Salvation Army, at least one parking lot, and several small businesses. It is also in walking distance to bus and commuter rail stops.

However, DCAM will have the final recommendation on where to locate Mass Bay's new home, and Andrews said other sites in the downtown have potential, including the current site of the Danforth Museum on Union Avenue. That museum is moving 2015 to the Jonathan Maynard building on Vernon Street.

"There's tons of space [downtown], it just has to be done well," Andrews said.

MassBay envisions the new campus to be a “very modern, environmentally friendly,” said MassBay Dean Yves Salomon-Fernandez, adding that “it will be a community space.”

The architectural style has yet to be determined, said Solomon.

“We want this to be a comprehensive campus, not a satellite campus,” O’Donnell said. “Downtown would put us at a crossroads with road traffic and commuter rail.”

MassBay's Framingham campus is a leased former middle school building on Flagg Drive, owned by the town, and adjacent to the current Fuller Middle School. Halpin said that the school district needs MassBay's building back for the 2015-2016 school year to house Fuller students while Fuller Middle School is replaced or remodeled.

MassBay has occupied the Flagg Drive location in Framingham for 15 years, according to O’Donnell. That campus enrolls almost 2,000. “What we have is an old middle school” with an open architecture that presents challenges for a community college, O'Donnell said.

MassBay moved into its Ashland location in February 2001, and the lease expires at the end of January 2014. MassBay's Automotive Technology Center in Ashland would be consolidated in a downtown Framingham campus.

MassBay officials hope its downtown location could hold about 4,000, slightly more than the student population at its main campus in Wellesley, which it has owned since 1973.

Meanwhile, O’Donnell said MassBay is losing money by renting space. “In our lease, the Town of Framingham is responsible [for the building], but we have put $3 million–that’s money we’ll never recover,” said O’Donnell.

The next step will be to have meetings with the stakeholders and then DCAM will be looking at existing buildings and other property, Salomon-Fernandez said.

While there is room in the downtown area for new construction, Halpin said, an "adaptive reuse" of an existing structure is more likely. DCAM will be issuing request for proposals that will outline space requirements, according to Halpin.

At that point, Halpin said, it will be a little clearer as to which specific properties would be suitable on which to house a campus.

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com.

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com. Follow @johnswinc on Twitter.

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