The President’s Office is requesting proposals to lease 25,000 square feet of classroom and office space for a possible satellite center in downtown Springfield.
Issued Aug. 5, the request for proposals follows a study conducted last year by the UMass Donahue Institute that identified Springfield as a prime site for a satellite center in part because UMass Amherst, which would take the lead in overseeing it, already has a significant presence there.
“We very much want to open a satellite center in Springfield because an essential aspect of our mission of service to the Commonwealth is working to build better lives and futures for people and communities, which is what this would represent,” President Robert L. Caret said. “We know that the demand is there and that the business and political leadership supports it. The questions before us now are whether it is feasible to do this and whether there are sufficient resources available to help us meet this challenge.”
He added, “We view the issuance of the RFP as a critical next step in this process. We’re hopeful that the responses to it will begin to provide us with the clarity we need to move forward.”
A number of UMass Amherst faculty and staff are engaged in Springfield in various ways, conducting research, teaching or working in administrative capacities. They work in a variety of areas including health, fine arts, creative economy, natural sciences, engineering and green industries, as well as management, sports and education. In addition, the campus’s public radio station, WFCR, plans to move to Springfield. Last month, the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a partnership between UMass Amherst and Baystate Medical Center received a $5.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
But UMass system officials would like to take the engagement a step further by establishing a base in Springfield that would serve as a general portal to resources of UMass Amherst and the entire five-campus system. According to the President’s Office, the satellite center concept envisions courses being provided by at least several and possibly all of the UMass campuses. Officials said that the RFP process should reveal whether UMass is able to obtain space in a suitable location at an affordable price, which will help determine whether UMass can move forward with the satellite center project.
Caret first raised the possibility of establishing satellite centers during his 2011 statewide bus tour, after business and civic groups in various regions across the state expressed interest in seeing UMass expand its presence in their areas.
Before coming to UMass two years ago, Caret was president of Towson University in Maryland, where the University System of Maryland established two “system centers” to meet emerging demand for public higher education in local areas. The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, for instance, is a collaboration of nine higher education institutions with the University of Maryland College Park as the lead campus, a model that was examined by the Donahue Institute as part of its study.
The study notes that the UMass system has more than 75 staffed locations across the Commonwealth that house academic and training and research programs – this in addition to the system’s five main campuses. But the study also identified several areas of Massachusetts where there was unmet need, including Springfield.
A second Donahue Institute study noted the multiple projects moving forward in or near downtown Springfield, including the State Data Center and the Union Station Intermodal Transit Center, and said these new investments and the presence of a UMass satellite center would “work synergistically to help create a more vibrant and dynamic downtown Springfield.”
In addition, Springfield focus groups organized by the Donahue Institute provided evidence of broad support for a satellite center among employers, local government, civic and business leaders, and young professionals. Aside from the economic development boost it would provide the city, those interviewed emphasized the important role a satellite center would play in increasing high school graduation rates and removing barriers to employment for skilled workers. They also spoke of the need for a more highly skilled technical workforce over the next five to 10 years, including in engineering, computer science, health technology and precision manufacturing.
According to the President’s Office, if the University is able to move forward with a satellite center in Springfield, it would offer academic programs in a blended manner that allows students to access courses on-site and through UMassOnline. While academic programming is still in the planning stage, a satellite center would potentially offer two-year associate degrees leading to bachelor’s degrees in partnership with community colleges -- and undergraduate and graduate degree programs may be offered in business, healthcare, education, public health and creative arts in partnership with other public and private higher education institutions. The satellite center would also serve as the new home for the UMass Amherst-Springfield Partnership, a project designed to promote the city as a center of environmentally beneficial green industries, boost the city’s arts and creative economy, and expand relevant university teaching and outreach initiatives.
The request for proposals is for 25,000 square feet of space suitable for classrooms, faculty offices and other uses, with the option of doubling the amount of space at a later date. Proposals are due Sept. 3.