UMass explores opening satellite center in downtown Springfield

The University of Massachusetts is exploring opening a satellite center in Springfield to expand access to the school in the region and to help revitalize the city.

The university system said Tuesday it is seeking to lease a 25,000-square-foot space downtown, with the potential to double the footprint at a later date. The satellite center would act as a portal for UMass colleges, with courses available on site as well as online, UMass officials said.

While the plans are in the early stages, the site could offer two-year associate degrees leading to bachelor degrees in partnership with community colleges. Graduate programs could also be offered.

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Courses would cover a wide swath of subjects, including business, health care, and creative arts, as well as more technical skills including computer science and precision manufacturing.

“We know that the demand is there and that the business and political leadership supports it,” UMass President Robert Caret said in a statement. “The questions before us now are whether it is feasible to do this.”

A UMass Donohue Institute study identified Springfield as a prime site for UMass expansion because of the city's proximity of UMass Amherst as well as the unmet need for academic and training programs in the region.

“It’s really about the demand,” said UMass spokeswoman Ann Scales. “The classes people need, that’s what we want to create.”

Many issues remain, including how to finance the move. Scales said state and private donors probably would have to commit finances to sustain the facility, though student tuition could also keep the satellite center running.

“If we build this center and people come, this could pay for itself,” Scales said.

The proposed development in Springfield is part of a larger effort to expand the UMass presence in Springfield. The Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a partnership between UMass Amherst and the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, recently secured a $5.5 million grant to develop a health innovation center in the North End of Springfield.

The system’s flagship campus is also in the process of relocating its public radio station to Springfield, and faculty and staff are involved in more than 120 programs throughout the city.

Beyond the educational opportunities, the satellite campus center would also serve as the new home for the UMass Amherst-Springfield Partnership, which is designed to rejuvenate the local economy.

“When you have a university like UMass in your city doing business, it becomes a magnet for other entrepreneurs and investors as well as for commerce,” Scales said.