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Lawmaker seeks Haverhill satellite for UMass-Lowell

“Haverhill’s a gateway city; we have a local community college. So this could be a great fit,’’ says Representative Brian Dempsey.

It already plays host to Northern Essex Community College. But Haverhill could also one day be the location of a satellite campus for the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

That, at least, is a goal being promoted by a key lawmaker, with support from other city leaders.

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State Representative Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, said that over the last several months he has had conversations with Martin T. Meehan, UMass Lowell’s chancellor, and others about the idea of the university locating a satellite facility in downtown Haverhill.

The discussions are still in their early stages, but Dempsey, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, believes the concept is worth pursuing.

“The idea would be that having Northern Essex Community College, a two-year college in the city, that this would be a very good addition to that and provide the city with a four-year college option that would certainly work in conjunction with Northern Essex,’’ Dempsey said.

Dempsey noted that Robert Caret, the new president of the University of Massachusetts, “has talked publicly about the concept of satellite campuses in the Commonwealth and that he has seen that work effectively in other states.’’

Bringing a UMass Lowell facility downtown could help in the ongoing effort to revitalize that area, Dempsey said.

“There’s been a lot of activity in terms of new housing in the downtown and the redevelopment of some of our old mill buildings, and this could be a great addition for the community,’’ he said. “Haverhill’s a gateway city; we have a local community college. So this could be a great fit.’’

His initial conversations were focused on UMass Lowell alone, but Dempsey said the idea of the university and Northern Essex partnering in a downtown facility has since been discussed. Northern Essex has a campus on Elliott Street as well as a growing campus in Lawrence.

“There could be an alignment between the two institutions that may or may not include sharing the same suite or the same building, but it’s certainly one of the pieces we would try to discuss and try to determine going forward,’’ he said.

Meehan, in a telephone interview, said, “I’ve had several discussions with chairman Dempsey about this and I know he feels passionately that UMass Lowell should have a presence in downtown Haverhill.

“We are going to continue to work with him to see if we can find a way to create a presence that results in more accessibility to UMass Lowell education and to make sure it’s a model that not only can work for Haverhill but potentially work elsewhere,’’ Meehan added.

Meehan agreed that one possible scenario for a UMass Lowell presence in Haverhill would be a joint effort with Northern Essex. Meehan noted that the two schools have already been talking about ways to expand collaboration, saying he was excited that Northern Essex’s new president, Lane A. Glenn, wants to see that increased collaboration.

“Northern Essex is an important partner with us anyway; in fact they are the second-largest feeder school to UMass Lowell,’’ Meehan added, referring to the 300 to 400 students who annually transfer from the community college to the university.

“We’ve been talking to UMass Lowell about a great number of things, including how to improve the transfer of our students to UMass Lowell,’’ Glenn said.

Glenn said the idea of a downtown UMass Lowell-Northern Essex facility is one “we have just begun to talk about.’’

But he noted that the community college is celebrating its 50th year in Haverhill this year and “if there is an opportunity and a need for Northern Essex to be in the downtown, that’s great. We want to meet the needs of Haverhill.’’

John A. Michitson, City Council president, said that bringing UMass Lowell and Northern Essex to the downtown would contribute to an effort the city launched in January to attract and retain emerging businesses. That effort has included working to convert a former downtown mill building into an incubator facility for small companies.

“One of the big goals of the task force is workforce development and training, and UMass Lowell and Northern Essex combined would really offer a multitude of levels of training all the way from PhD to technician, which is really what we need,’’ he said. “More important, if we can get a presence of both of those institutions in the downtown, that would be a magnet for us to recruit companies.’’

Mitchitson said the increased foot traffic that would result from attracting those businesses - and from UMass Lowell and Northern Essex themselves - would in turn serve to boost the growing downtown economy.

“One thing we don’t have in the downtown that we desperately need is an anchor,’’ Michitson said. “And UMass Lowell and Northern Essex combined in the downtown could be that anchor.’’

James P. Jajuga, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said that if Dempsey is able to work out a plan to bring UMass Lowell and Northern Essex to the downtown, the chamber would support it.

“You’d be bringing in more students into the downtown and we think that’s healthy,’’ he said. “It would be a win-win not only for the students who would have more opportunities,’’ but for the businesses where they would shop and dine.

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