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Framingham State to lease town-owned property for noncredit courses

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 8, 2012 05:36 PM

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Framingham State University is eyeing the town-owned Maynard building at 14 Vernon St. for additional classroom space starting Sept. 1.

Framingham Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Monday night to work with Framingham State University to renovate a town-owned building into classrooms for noncredit community-oriented classes offered by the university.

Framingham State submitted a three-year short-term lease proposal to selectmen for the Jonathan Maynard building at 14 Vernon Street, detailing how they would use the space to teach courses like English to foreign speakers and provide professional development for corporate leaders.

"Most of those are community type programs," said Dale Hamel, executive vice president of the university, at the meeting. "It would be a good fit for this facility."

The building, vacant for two years, was built as a school in 1918, but then was divided into smaller rooms and leased out as office condominiums, said Doug Goddard, town architect.

In 2010, the town finished exterior renovations, including installing a slate roof, redoing the walls, and repairing the windows, Goddard said.

Selectmen put out a request for proposals for building tenants in December 2011.

"This building has been vacant for far too long, and we need to get a tenant in there as quickly as possible," said board vice chair Dennis Giombetti at the meeting. "As landlords, we should make sure to do everything required so the tenant can move in as outlined here."

The proposal comes a month after the university said it will limit the annual increase in its overall undergraduate enrollment to 2 percent this September, and plans to build a new $42 million, 350-bed dormitory by 2015 to help handle surging enrollment.

Hamel said previously that the university has seen enrollment hikes of 12 percent each year in the past two years, up from 4 percent four years ago.

Other smaller rooms in the building not used as classrooms could be used as offices for visiting lecturers and professors, Hamel said.

"We want to take down walls, do some modifications, and make it an attractive facility," Hamel said.

The university, which is working with the state's Division of Capital Asset Management on the project, said they would pay the full three-year rent upfront if the town agreed to renovate the building before classes begin on Sept. 1.

However, the proposed rent amount would not cover the renovations desired by the university, but university and board officials said they would work together and with the state to iron out the details.

"If it goes beyond market rent, we would need to consider if we want to pay more than market rent," Hamel said.

Selectman Ginger Esty said she and other neighbors - including state Rep. Chris Walsh, who has an abutting business - worried that erecting a classroom building off the hill would lead to littering, noise, and traffic.

"My wish is not to know when college is in session because of trash on the street," Esty said, adding that she hoped the university would help the town install trash bins in the area. "This is one of our most precious neighborhoods, and it should be more comfortable to live there. I hope the college will take up the same interests."

Hamel and Charles Sisitsky, the board's chair, said that the building use would not be for typical undergraduate students, as people taking the English and professional courses would not be enrolled in school, and would drive directly to and from class.

A neighbor testifying at the meeting said he has spoken with Hamel and feels confident that the university has addressed his concerns.

"Dale Hamel has assured us that Vernon Street will not become a thoroughfare for students up on the hill, which is the main cause of noise, trash, and neighborhood disruptions," he said.

According to Framingham's online assessment database, the building at 14 Vernon Street sits on 2.26 acres, is worth almost $1.23 million, and was sold to the town in 1850. The total value of the property, including land, comes in at almost $1.63 million.

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