HAVERHILL — The comeback of downtown has featured the transformation of old factories into condominiums, apartments and restaurants.
Local leaders want to add a college to the mix.
UMass Lowell and Northern Essex Community College said they are considering a partnership that would lead to a satellite campus in downtown Haverhill.
James Jajuga, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said talks involving UMass Chancellor Martin Meehan and NECC President Dr. Lane Glenn are moving toward making the campus happen.
"The chamber wants to work with NECC and UMass Lowell to help create a presence in Haverhill, and specifically in the downtown area," Jajuga said.
If it happens, the city would have three colleges: The main NECC campus, Zion Bible College on the site of the former Bradford College, and UMass Lowell.
Meehan came to Haverhill on March 6, where at a chamber of commerce luncheon he spoke to more than 60 business leaders and educators about partnerships with NECC, jobs and training opportunities to be provided by UMass Lowell's presence in Haverhill, and the possibility of a satellite campus in Haverhill.
John Chemaly, chairman of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce and president of Trinity EMS, which provides ambulance service to Haverhill, asked Meehan if he would consider duplicating the vibrancy he brought to downtown Lowell in Haverhill.
Meehan responded by saying he and Glenn were discussing doing just that, including the possibility of opening a satellite campus downtown.
"I think it would be fantastic for Haverhill and would enhance the momentum the city already has going for it now," Chemaly said.
After the chamber luncheon, Meehan and several of his staff members visited NECC's Haverhill campus and spoke with Glenn and his staff.
"We are looking at what kind of presence by NECC would make the most sense in downtown Haverhill," Glenn said about the talks that have been taking place. "We've been in conversations with Mayor (James) Fiorentini and downtown business leaders as to what kind of programs or service would make sense for the college to have downtown."
The appeal of downtown
Northern Essex has a strong presence in downtown Lawrence. In 1991, the college opened the Dimitry Building on Franklin Street. Now the college has four locations in Lawrence, including the Louise Haffner Fournier Education Center on Amesbury Street, the iHealth building on Franklin Street and the new NECC Riverwalk on Merrimack Street. The college's plans for Lawrence include opening its new El-Hefni Health and Technology Center in the fall of 2013. The center will replace the former in-town mall on Common Street.
In the last five years, downtown Haverhill has had a resurgence, with developers converting old shoe factories into hundreds of apartments and condos. Several new restaurants have opened, giving the west end of downtown the nickname "restaurant row." The city also has a new downtown parking garage with more than 300 spaces.
Glenn said some of the benefits of having a satellite campus in downtown Haverhill include reaching a new population of students who work in the city center and can take advantage of a school close to where they work.
"Our roots are in Haverhill and, as the downtown grows and gets stronger, the college will grow and get stronger," Glenn said. "We have invited a few senior administrators from UMass Lowell to join us for a conversation in April about higher education opportunities in downtown Haverhill."
Glenn said City Council President John Michitson has been trying to get a green chemistry center up and running in Haverhill, and was closely involved in creating a business incubator on the seventh floor of the Burgess Building at 143 Essex St., where emerging, innovative businesses can share resources and ideas.
Glenn said Michitson has also been trying to get NECC to create a presence downtown.
"We are engaged in these conversations and are looking for the right opportunity," Glenn said.
Michitson said the missing piece of the puzzle downtown is attracting businesses that will use office space and research and development space.
"If Northern Essex and UMass Lowell come together to create a presence in the downtown, it will be a beacon to attract emerging businesses," Michitson said. "Most importantly, it would provide for training and work force development for those businesses and would increase foot traffic during the day in the downtown."
College partnerships grow
As the times change, so has NECC. The college now offers 101 online courses, as well as programs it created to meet the needs of industry. One of those, an associate's degree in laboratory science, sprouted from talks and in partnership with area employers such as Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
Northern Essex has also formed new partnerships with four-year colleges. Students can earn a bachelor of science degree in early childhood education as well as elementary education through Fitchburg State University without having to leave NECC's campus. NECC students can also earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing that is offered through Salem State University.
"We have programs where students can get their two-year degree, then go right to a four-year degree program and I'd like to see more of those," Glenn said. "If we were able to do this with UMass Lowell, maybe in the area of a business program, I think that would be a great thing and might make sense for downtown Haverhill."
During the chamber luncheon, Meehan talked about the growth of UMass Lowell and partnerships it has developed with Haverhill High School and NECC, which Meehan said is the second largest feeder school to UMass Lowell. Through NECCUM — a consortium of 10 colleges — students can take courses and use the libraries of nine other colleges in the region and cross register between the NECC and UMass Lowell campuses at no additional cost.
Meehan said UMass Lowell also has a contract with Haverhill to provide dual enrollment courses to Haverhill High School students. The courses include science, technology, engineering and math. This semester, 20 students are participating in a blended learning course — introduction to engineering — that involves online lectures and monthly visits to the campus to meet with the instructor and do lab work, he said.
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