Caret Sees Larger Role for UMass in Springfield

Kicking off his third statewide bus tour in Springfield on Oct. 15, President Robert L. Caret said the University is moving toward establishing a satellite center in the city’s downtown.

“The University of Massachusetts is ready to play a larger role in the city of Springfield and in this region,” Caret said, after participating in a roundtable discussion at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) that focused on educational and economic issues facing the Springfield area. “I am pleased to say that we continue to move forward in a process designed to culminate in the creation of a satellite center in downtown Springfield.”

Caret said that part of the University’s mission is to “help shape the Commonwealth’s future by educating the citizens of today and tomorrow and by ensuring that residents of the state have the education and workforce skills they need to build better lives for themselves. Creating a satellite center in Springfield would be the fulfillment of that mission.”

At the roundtable discussion, Caret was joined by Board of Trustees Chairman Henry M. Thomas, III; Ira Rubenzahl, president of STCC; Bill Messner, president of Holyoke Community College; Bill Ward, president and CEO of the Regional Employment Board, Hampden County; and several other regional leaders who are engaged in the city’s dialogue about a potential satellite center.

Caret said that UMass was in the final stages of evaluating responses to its request for proposals (RFP) to lease space in downtown Springfield and that it hoped to find space that would house both the satellite center and the Amherst campus’ Springfield-based economic development, creative economy and research activities.

“The idea would be to link ‘UMass’ with ‘Springfield’ in a full, formal and enduring way,’’ he said.

Last month, the UMass Building Authority received four proposals in response to its RFP to lease 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. A committee set up by the Building Authority is evaluating the proposals in consultation with John Barry, a longtime commercial real estate broker in Boston.

UMass Amherst would be the lead campus for the satellite center. Other UMass campuses would also provide academic programs, “allowing us to enlist our system’s many strengths on Springfield’s behalf,” Caret said.

UMass Amherst has the most active involvement in the city of Springfield. Its faculty and staff are engaged in more than 120 programs there in areas that include health, fine arts and the creative economy, natural sciences, engineering and green industries, as well as management, sports and education.

UMass Amherst plans to move its public radio station WFCR from Amherst to Springfield. The Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a partnership between UMass Amherst and Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center, is beginning work on establishing a Health Informatics and Technology Innovation Center after receiving a $5.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center last summer.

Currently, other UMass campuses are working on developing a menu of academic programming that would be responsive to the educational, economic and social needs of Springfield area residents, Caret said. Those academic programs could be offered in a blended manner that allows students to attend courses on-site and through UMassOnline. UMass campuses and other participating institutions, which are expected to include area community colleges, could offer their “home’ programs such as two-year associate degrees leading to bachelor’s degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate degree programs  in areas such as healthcare, public policy, nursing, business administration, early childhood education and linguistics.

Thomas, who is a Springfield native, said, “I remain optimistic that the satellite center in downtown Springfield will come to fruition, which I believe would open a new chapter in the history of UMass and Springfield relations.”