By Jill Harmacinski and Mike La Bella, Staff Writers
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — HAVERHILL — The University of Massachusetts at Lowell plans to open a satellite campus in downtown Haverhill next fall in the school’s first such planned expansion and the latest change on the North Shore higher education landscape.
University officials are looking for 10,000 square feet of office space they can use for six to eight “smart classrooms’’ and administrative offices for the satellite spot, which will focus on continuing education, University Chancellor Martin Meehan told The Times’ sister paper, The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover.
Talk of opening a UMass Lowell campus in Haverhill has swirled for months after Meehan appeared at a Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce event earlier this year and said the move was being considered. At that time, he said, UMass Lowell was discussing a partnership with Northern Essex Community College, which has its main campus in Haverhill.
Meehan said the satellite campus will become a reality with help from state Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, who is a UMass Lowell alumnus and chairman of the House Ways and Means committee. Money for the campus is included in the state’s fiscal year 2013 budget, officials said.
Northern Essex Community College is “the highest feeder school to UMass Lowell,” Meehan said. Of the 16,000 students who attend UMass Lowell, more than 2,000 come from the Haverhill area, he said.
“The long and short of it is we are delighted we will have a presence in the city of Haverhill,” Meehan said. “A presence in Haverhill will help us become ever more accessible.”
A UMass Lowell expansion into Haverhill would come as Salem State University continues to expand since its was granted a change from college to university status in July 2010, and it comes less than a year after the private Endicott College expanded into a satellite campus in Gloucester. Endicott opened its new campus in Gloucester last spring at 33 Commercial Street, on the city’s outer harbor and in its historic Fort neighborhood.
Dempsey called the planned UMass Lowell Haverhill campus, expected to open next September, a “tremendous opportunity” for the city’s downtown.
“There’s an energy that’s happening in downtown Haverhill,’’ he said. “This can be a piece of that.’’
In the last several years, hundreds of condos and apartments have moved into formerly vacant shoe factory buildings in the downtown, and new restaurants and shops have also settled there.
It’s unclear where the satellite campus will be housed. Meehan said officials don’t have a site in mind yet and are looking to rent space. Requests for proposals will be sought, allowing property owners to offer their buildings. Once the campus finds a home, Meehan said he expects it will boost economic activity in the area. As an example, he pointed to college students who will be in the area eating at local restaurants and sub shops.
Students can get to the satellite campus not only by car but also by commuter rail and Amtrak’s Downeaster train, which stops at downtown Haverhill’s train station, he added.
“We think this is a great fit,” Meehan said.
Melinda Barrett, owner of Barrett’s Specialty Foods at 103 Merrimack St., beamed with excitement when she heard about the satellite campus.
“Anything that would bring more people downtown would be a good thing,” she said. “I think having a college campus downtown is a great idea,” Barrett said.
The Haverhill satellite campus will be overseen by UMass Lowell’s Division of Online and Continuing Education. Students will be offered the option of traditional learning and hybrid programs that combine online and in-person instruction for what is known as “blended learning,” officials said.
Students at the Haverhill campus will have access to everything from single courses to full degrees, as well as advising and other academic support services.
The division offers more than 35 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and three dozen graduate certificates. UMass offers 88 degrees in total.
NECC President Lane Glenn described the planned Haverhill satellite campus as “a wonderful benefit for NECC graduates who will no longer need to commute to Lowell to pursue their bachelor’s degrees. The campus, Glenn added, “will allow Northern Essex to grow its already strong relationship with the university.”
At NECC, 61 percent of students continue their education after earning their associate degree and the great majority do so at UMass Lowell, Glenn said.
NECC also works closely with the university to make the transfer process “as seamless as possible,” Glenn said.
The details on what programs will be offered at the Haverhill campus are still being worked out. Options may include courses in health management, undergraduate and graduate management, entrepreneurship and nursing.
In the future, Meehan said there are possibilities UMass Lowell will open satellite campuses in other Merrimack Valley communities, including Lawrence where NECC is now building a multimillion-dollar allied health and sciences facility.
“In terms of caution, we want to make sure this model works,” Meehan said, referring to the Haverhill campus.