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Study of public colleges cites need for $1b rehab

Facilities deemed old, inadequate

As more students flock to aging campuses, the 24 Massachusetts state and community colleges will need more than $1 billion in new construction and renovations to modernize and expand over the next decade, according to a study by the state Board of Higher Education.

Chairman Stephen Tocco said the board hopes to borrow as much as $281 million next spring to complete the most urgent projects, and will ask the Legislature to authorize a bond issue.

The equivalent of 80,000 full-time students attend the state and community colleges, and their numbers will increase by 7,000 by 2011, according to the study. The majority of college buildings are more than 30 years old, with deficiencies that range from a lack of handicapped access to inadequate wiring for new technology. The new construction should include residence halls and classrooms, which are now full to capacity on many campuses.

"This is the century we live in, and kids expect to be in surroundings that are not crumbling, that are pleasant and attractive," Framingham State College president Helen Heineman said.

At Framingham State, where student enrollment is 3,000 and growing, the seven residence halls are full, with 50 students living in overflow housing in lounges. Meanwhile, a three-story building built in the early 1900s sits unused because it lacks handicapped access required by law.

Other urgent needs the study found were dining hall and science building improvements at Fitchburg State College, studio upgrades at Massachusetts College of Art, and lecture hall renovations and new parking lots at Cape Cod Community College. The 18-month study was commissioned by the board and led by a Virginia-based consulting firm. It did not examine University of Massachusetts campuses.

Most of the state and community colleges' capital funds come from the state; between 1994 and 2002, capital spending across the 29 campuses averaged $25 million a year. The new, 10-year slate of needs listed in the report includes about $700 million worth of work to improve existing buildings, and $226 million to add capacity for growing enrollments. An additional $146 million is needed for infrastructure such as roads, parking, and security, the report said, along with $96 million for other nonacademic needs, such as space for student social activities.

At Westfield State College, the fastest-growing campus in the system, president Fred Woodward said additional beds and classrooms are his biggest needs. The school's enrollment has grown by about 1,000 students, to 5,200, since he took the job in 1997, and facilities are "maxed out," he said. Woodward is waiting for Governor Mitt Romney to approve financing for a new, 400-bed dorm to be built next year -- the first new building at Westfield State in 14 years.

"If the governor truly understands the needs of the campuses, he would be hard-pressed not to bond these projects, because these institutions are creating workers for the Commonwealth," Woodward said.

Tocco said his conversations with legislative leaders and the governor's office have been encouraging on the prospect of capital funding.

"I think they see it as a way they can help reduce the pressure, and signal that higher education is a priority," said Tocco.

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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