EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 1, 2013

UMass-Lowell rejects two sites for satellite campus

Will accept new proposals for Haverhill location

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — City officials, downtown businesses and potential students were waiting to learn this week what downtown location was chosen as the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s new satellite campus.

UMass-Lowell officials said in January that two downtown property owners had responded to a request for bids to host the campus by the Jan. 25 deadline, and that the winning proposal would be chosen Monday.

But yesterday, those officials said they have determined neither proposed property will work. But they said they are not giving up on Haverhill.

It’s back to the drawing board when it comes to selecting the site.

UMass-Lowell spokeswoman Christine Gillette said yesterday that after careful review of the two proposals by a university committee, it was determined that neither site meet the school’s needs. Gillette said the committee reviewed the proposals to determine if they met the bidding criteria based on an RFP, or request for proposals — a bidding procedure for property owners.

“The university will issue another request for proposals,” Gillette said.

She said the committee did not provide a particular reason for not choosing either proposal, but that in general neither met the university’s requirements.

“We’ve certainly heard a lot of interest in a Haverhill campus and we are confident we will find a site,” Gillette said. “The university remains committed to opening a satellite campus in Haverhill in the 2013-2014 academic year.”

City officials have said locating the campus in the heart of downtown, either on Merrimack Street or Washington Street, would be ideal. Downtown businesses have expressed optimism that a satellite campus would bring a college crowd to the downtown and that it would be good for many businesses, especially sandwich shops, cafes and other dining establishments.

In late December, the college announced plans to open the satellite campus downtown. UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan said the school was looking for 10,000 square feet of office space for six to eight “smart classrooms” and administrative offices for the satellite spot, which will focus on continuing education.

State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the UMass-Lowell plan with Meehan and is playing a leading role in the project.

The initial bidding documents required the leased space to be downtown, within walking distance of Haverhill’s train and bus stations. The map was changed, however, after a team from the university did a site walk of the area and felt that there were more potential locations beyond what was covered by the first map, Gillette said.

Members of the City Council have been critical of the process for selecting a site for the satellite campus. Councilor William Ryan said at a meeting in late January that it has been too secretive a process and that it lacked input from local people.

Other councilors were more confident that the university’s plan was on track.

“I expect the mayor and our legislators and Marty Meehan know what they are doing and have a plan,” Councilor Thomas Sullivan said.

Mayor James Fiorentini indicated he is taking a hands-off approach to the college’s search for a property. Yesterday, he said he was confident that Dempsey and Meehan will find a suitable location in Haverhill to open the satellite campus.