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Framingham

MassBay seeks new Framingham site

Massachusetts Bay Community College  plans to use the $22 million in capital funding it received from the state this month to help it create a new permanent site in downtown Framingham.

College officials are still in preliminary planning phases, and do not have a timetable or a location for the new Framingham property, but are aiming for a facility with 160,000 square feet of space, said Jeremy Solomon, a MassBay spokesman.

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They will begin talks with the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management, which oversees the design and construction of public buildings, to find a location to buy that fits the needs of the school and the town, Solomon said.

MassBay plans to end its satellite campus leases on Flagg Drive in Framingham and on Eliot Street  in Ashland, and consolidate their programs at the new Framingham location. The college’s main campus in Wellesley, which it has owned since 1973, will remain unaffected by the changes.

The college chose Framingham because of its access to public transportation, diverse population, and established relationship with MassBay, Solomon said.

The town’s economic vitality also proved key in MassBay’s decision-making process, he said.

“Having a permanent location in a town like Framingham, which is really at the heart of many growing industries of Massachusetts, will enable us to more closely align our programs with the needs of the economic region,” Solomon said.

‘We’re very confident that if we build it, they will come.’

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MassBay’s current Framingham satellite campus enrolls about 1,800 students, but college officials hope the new permanent location could accommodate more than double that at about 4,000 students. If the college achieves that number, more students would attend the Framingham location than MassBay’s site on Oakland Street in Wellesley Hills, which has about 3,775 students.

“We’re very confident that if we build it, they will come,” Solomon said.

The expansion plans are being drawn after MassBay saw a student enrollment increase of 7 percent from fall 2011 to last month, up from a 6 percent enrollment decline from fall 2010 to fall 2011, Solomon said.

He said the enrollment surge was likely a result of initiatives spurred by the college’s new president, John O’Donnell, who started last fall. In the past year, the administration has ramped up marketing strategies and funding; improved student life by adding more operators to its telephone lines and waiving its $20 application fee; and streamlined the online application process for its admissions officers so they can “get the correct information on the first try,” Solomon said.

“We’re trying to eliminate any barriers that might have existed to people that might want to come to MassBay,” he said.

Solomon said that the community college’s affordability might be another reason enrollment has risen.

“We offer transferrable credits, which is a cost-effective way to achieve a four-year bachelor’s degree,” Solomon said. “We see people on campus who are here for a semester or a year or two years, and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution for their bachelor’s degree without paying the four-year price.”

Framingham State University  officials said that they view MassBay’s plans to offer a permanent campus in town as a positive addition to the community, especially since 21 percent of Framingham State’s undergraduate transfer students started at MassBay.

“We’ve worked hand in hand with them on projects to ensure students are successful, especially when they’re transferring from MassBay to Framingham State,” said Dan Magazu, a university spokesman.

Town officials also said they look forward to working with MassBay to find a suitable site downtown for its new facility.

Alison Steinfeld, Framingham’s economic development director, said MassBay’s relocation could help students link up with the local workforce, as well as help downtown Framingham grow as a commercial district.

“The fact that MassBay is focusing on the downtown is particularly exciting because new students create new vitality and a new consumer base downtown,” Steinfeld said.

Ashland officials, on the other hand, said they were sad to hear that the local community college would be leaving town.

“We value their presence in town and hate to lose them,” said Matthew Selby, Ashland’s director of community development.

However, Selby said, the college’s leased space at 250 Eliot St., which is not owned by the town, has a high success rate for finding tenants.

“We hate to see them leave for another community, but hopefully as this door closes there will be a window of opportunity for another institution to take its place,” he said.

MassBay moved into its Ashland location in February 2001, and the lease expires at the end of January 2014. MassBay has occupied the Flagg Drive location in Framingham for nearly 20 years, and the lease ends at the end of August 2013.

“We will do everything we can to smoothly transition from that lease to the permanent location as quickly as we can,” Solomon said of the Flagg Drive property, noting that MassBay will not pursue buying the location, which is owned by the town and leased through the Framingham School Committee.

Solomon said MassBay officials have wanted to free themselves of leases, which he said are costly to the institution, for a long time.

“As a state institution, owning capital facilities is a better investment of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “We also would be eligible for upgrades and maintenance dollars from the state that we’re currently ineligible for.”

Solomon said building the permanent Framingham site would also better position the college to expand its programs and accommodate the needs of more Massachusetts residents.

“We’re affordable, we’re convenient, and we have many online opportunities,” he said. “We aspire to be one of the best community colleges in the nation, and we think we have everything we need here to achieve that.”

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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