MassBay wants to relocate its campus downtown

Massachusetts Bay Community College wants to relocate its Framingham campus to the community’s downtown, but an exact location may not be known until late this year or early next year.

The state’s Division of Capital Asset Management will determine what parcels are suitable for a new campus. The college’s president, John O’Donnell, said he expects to acquire the land before next spring.

The current campus, a former middle school building on Flagg Drive, houses MassBay’s health sciences division, which includes 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.

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MassBay received $22 million in capital funding for a new Framingham campus from the state last October, and is seeking another $14 million, O’Donnell said. The college will issue bonds to raise an additional $23 million.

The college’s preliminary plans, announced last fall, call for a facility with 160,000 square feet of space and nearly 900 parking spaces.

Business owners have welcomed the idea of having a community college as a neighbor, said Holli Andrews, executive director of Framingham Downtown Renaissance, a nonprofit organization created to support the area’s redevelopment. Having more people on the streets, as MassBay students and staff “stay and explore a little bit” downtown, could boost the local economy and also make the area safer, Andrews said.

“They’re going to bring a new set of people with reasons to shop and dine in the downtown,” she said.


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

The block is home to the Downtown Common green space, 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, the state agency will have the final recommendation on where to place MassBay’s new home, and Andrews said other downtown sites have potential, including the current location of the Danforth Museum on Union Avenue. The museum is in the process of moving to the Jonathan Maynard Building on Vernon Street in Framingham Centre, and expects to be in its new quarters in 2015.

“There’s tons of space’’ downtown for MassBay, Andrews said, “it just has to be done well.”

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


The architectural style has yet to be determined, said Jeremy E. Solomon, MassBay’s associate vice president of marketing.

“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 current Framingham campus, which is leased from the town, is adjacent to Fuller Middle School. Halpin said the school district needs MassBay’s building for the 2015-2016 school year to house Fuller students while the middle school is replaced or remodeled.

MassBay has almost 2,000 students enrolled in classes at its Flagg Drive campus, which has been open for 15 years, O’Donnell said. “What we have is an old middle school” with an open architecture that presents challenges for a community college, he said.

MassBay’s opened its automotive technology center in Ashland in February 2001, and the lease expires at the end of January. The facility 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. He said Framingham is responsible for taking care of the school building, but the college has spent $3 million for its upkeep.

“That’s money we’ll never recover,” said O’Donnell.

The next step will be to have meetings with the people affected by the project, and then the Division of Capital Asset Management will be looking at potential locations, 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 requests for proposals that will outline space requirements, according to Halpin.

At that point, Framingham’s town manager said, it will be a little clearer which specific properties would be suitable to house a campus.

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com.