By Bill Kirk
---- — HAVERHILL — With the clock ticking toward a Jan. 18 deadline, UMass-Lowell officials are still waiting for a response from downtown property owners who might be interested in housing a satellite campus of the school.
Meanwhile, state officials and local business leaders are hopeful that the city could also become home to a satellite campus of the University of Massachusetts system.
To date, nobody has responded to the request for proposals (RFP) put out by UMass-Lowell on Dec. 20. But local and state officials remain optimistic that something will come through.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he has heard from two businesses and knows of a third that are interested in bidding on the UMass-Lowell project.
“It’s very common with RFPs for people to submit their proposals at the last minute,” he said. “This will be great for downtown. There are a number of places that would be suitable for the school.”
UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan said he was “confident there is interest within the City of Haverhill” from property owners interested in hosting his school’s satellite campus.
“We are still hoping for a good response,” he said Friday.
State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said the fact the RFP went out right before the holidays might have dampened the initial response, but he remains optimistic that appropriate proposals will be made before the deadline.
“I think it’s really an awareness thing at this time,” he said. “People may also be surprised to see how quickly we’re moving on it. We just announced it a few weeks ago and the university is aggressively moving to have space open by September 2013.”
The RFP calls for 10,000 square feet of leased space, requires it be in downtown, within walking distance of train and bus stations, and within an “area of interest” indicated on a map within the 60-page document. The map shows the downtown area from South Main Street to the train station, and bordered by Walnut Street/Bailey Boulevard to the north and, the Merrimack River to the south.
It calls for classrooms, faculty offices, a multi-purpose area for reception and student lounge and a small kitchenette. The property has to be handicapped accessible and conform to all relevant federal, state and local regulations.
In addition, the landlord would have to build the premises to the university’s specifications, providing six classrooms with varying space requirements, from 25 seats to 60 seats. The landlord would also have to provide a technology infrastructure, including ceiling mounted projectors, drop-down screens and electronic whiteboards in all classrooms.
The full RFP is available on the university’s Web site. Hard copies of it have also been passed around to area business leaders, according to Christine Gillette, UMass-Lowell spokeswoman.
If the satellite campus is constructed as planned, it could pave the way for even greater opportunities for the school and downtown Haverhill.
According to Meehan and Dempsey, the University of Massachusetts system is intent on opening a system satellite campus somewhere in Massachusetts this year. Currently, the statewide system is looking at Springfield for its first satellite, but both Meehan and Dempsey feel that the Haverhill could house a system satellite some day.
“We are looking at perhaps a longer-term situation here,” Dempsey said Friday. “We have envisioned this becoming a system satellite campus.”
That would presumably mean a larger presence in the city, with more students, staff and space requirements.
Meehan said Robert Caret, president of the University of Massachusetts system, “wants to see the system open at least one satellite campus in 2013.”
He added, “the entire system is looking at how to expand its offerings.”
One downtown businessman, City Councilor Michael McGonagle, said he is delighted that UMass-Lowell wants to come to Haverhill.
“It will be exciting to get something in that corner, to dress up this side of Haverhill,” he said.
In particular, he mentioned the old Woolworth building, which has been empty for 50 or 60 years and is an “eyesore.”
“This could be the best thing to happen to Haverhill in a long, long time,” he said. “But a lot of players need to come together. A couple of developers need to come together. It’s more than just UMass-Lowell.”
The owner of the Woolworth building is the Haverhill Foundation, a non-profit spinoff of the Haverhill Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber of Commerce president Sven Amirian said he has heard that the old Woolworth building may be part of the long-term plan for opening a system-satellite campus in Haverhill but that in the short-term, UMass-Lowell needs space that doesn’t take quite as much renovation as the Woolworth’s building.
He said he has heard of several possible bidders for the UMass-Lowell RFP.
“I would hope somebody’s going to respond,” Amirian said. “Typically, a lot of deals like this wait until the last minute. There are only a few buildings (downtown) that could be in the mix quickly enough” for an August 2013 opening.
For more information and the RFP documents, click on this link: www.uml.edu/procurement/Open_Bids.html.