By Allyssa Jewell
The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education has awarded $375,000 to Framingham State to build the MetroWest College Planning Center.
The school hopes to host this center in the historic 1812 House, which will be adjacent to new student parking.
This property is located on 1000 Worcester Road at Route 9, also known as 13 Salem End Rd., located behind Linsley Hall. The property was purchased earlier this spring for $635,000, according to Executive Vice President Dr. Dale Hamel.
Hamel said the school originally bought this property, along with the apartment complexes and an former tax attorney office, with plans to demolish the existing structures.
“The original intention of buying these parcels was to make additional parking, which would permit us not to have to build a parking deck on Maynard Road as part of the complex to create a new residence hall,” said Hamel.
When Framingham State bought this property, and the community learned it would be the future home for new student parking, there was concern from town officials, local historians and nearby residents.
The reason for this concern was because of the 1812 House located on the property.
In a letter to former President Timothy J. Flanagan, Stephen Herring, a former Framingham Town Historian and FSU alumnus, voiced his concerns about the house being destroyed because of its historical connection to the school.
According to Herring, James Watson Brown, an educator and the first Framingham Superintendent of Schools, once owned this home.
In his letter Herring said, “Brown’s advocacy and donation of more than two acres of land was a primary factor in the relocation of America’s first normal school to Framingham in 1853.”
In addition, Brown was a founder of the St. John’s Parish, which is now known to FSU students as the Heineman Ecumenical Center.
In a note on top of the document provided by Hamel, Flanagan wrote that this letter was “very interesting reading. Let’s pursue preservation of this building if feasible.”
The 1812 House is included in the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth.
According to a letter from Brona Simon, executive director at Massachusetts Historical Commission, “It is in the opinion of the staff of the MHC that the property does not appear to retain sufficient integrity of setting, context, materials and association to meet the criteria of eligibility for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Therefore, I have determined that the demolition of this property is unlikely to affect significant historic or archaeological resources.”
FSU has looked at a variety of options for how to preserve the 1812 House and what it will be used for.
“When we did a cost estimate, it was probably around $1 million because it has to be brought up to code for accessibility and fire safety,” said Hamel.
FSU administrators decided the best way to renovate this house was to use university resources but also apply for grant funding. The school applied for a $500,000 grant through the Board of Higher Education to aid with the renovations.
“We asked for half of the funding. We would still plan on using the top half of the facility for our use because we have office space needs on campus. It makes sense for us to spend about half of that for what benefit we would get out of it,” said Hamel.
In order to apply for a grant from the Board of Higher Education adminstrators had to be a specific purpose of what the house would be used for. Administrators came up with a project known as the MetroWest College Planning Center.
According to the grant plan, the purpose of the college planning center will be to “provide ongoing financial counseling support (particularly as it relates to college debt management) during and after college, to students and their families.”
High school students from surrounding towns can visit this center and come for pre-college support. Students will be able to learn about the costs of college, how to apply for the Free Application for Federal Aid (FASFA) and how to manage debt from college.
“The concept is that there is a very large need for financial counseling to try to raise the achievement gap. It is one of the goals of the Vision Project being undertaken by the Board of Higher Education. They were looking to fund initiatives that would help close the achievement gap” for underrepresented populations, said Hamel.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Vision Project has three core goals: “Ensure that ‘college-bound’ means ‘college-ready,’ eliminate gaps in college participation by low-income students and safeguard affordability.”
The Vision Project has a budget of $7.5 million to fund projects to achieve these goals.
The grant application was also submitted in partnership with Mass Bay Community College. Both schools would support this program and the services it would provide.
“A large amount of that budget goes toward community college projects, which is why we partnered with Mass Bay,” said Hamel.
The school received $375,000 of the $500,000 they requested.
“We have been informed by the Board of Higher Education that we should receive a second allocation of funds next year. We should be above the $500,000 request contingent upon the state refunding the Vision Project next year,” said Hamel.
Once the house is renovated, there will be 235 parking spaces available to students at the site. The parking lot that will surround the College Planning Center will replace the Maynard Road lot once the new residence hall construction begins.
Dean of Students Melinda Stoops believes the College Planning Center would be a great addition to the school. “It improves prospective students’ understanding about the college and financial aid process. The college admissions process is becoming more and more competitive. It is going to be a great resource and provide a service to our community.”
Christina Valente, a senior communication arts major, believes the College Planning Center would be beneficial for incoming college students. “There are a lot of people who do not understand how financial aid works, how to apply for loans or scholarships – especially if you are the first one in your family to go to college,” she said.
Abby Coppinger, a sophomore fashion merchandising major, said the center would be useful for not only new college students but to others as well. “I think it could educate current students at school now.”
Marissa Martell, sophomore psychology major, was concerned about how the traffic from the College Planning Center could affect the new parking lots being built around the 1812 House. “I hope it does not interfere with the new parking. We need as many spaces as possible.”
Shauna King, a senior sociology major, said she would utilize the center. “I pay for part of college myself. I could use the extra guidance offered at the center.”
Administrators hope to have the center and new parking available to students by next year. Students can follow construction updates at: http://www.framingham.edu/campus-construction/index.html