By David Kibbe
Standard-Times Staff Writer
BOSTON — Bristol Community College is hoping to at least double its student enrollment in New Bedford next year from 1,200 to 2,400 students under a $1.2 million plan for more classroom space that BCC President John J. Sbrega, Mayor Scott W. Lang and legislators pitched to House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi yesterday.
The city and community college are looking for state financial support to lease space in another building downtown, in addition to the 8,000 square feet BCC already leases at the Star Store.
The exact location and size of the expansion hasn’t been finalized, but Mr. Sbrega said it could be as much as 30,000 additional square feet. Mr. Sbrega said it would be within several blocks of the Star Store, where the college would continue to teach classes, and could be ready by 2008.
“It’s a very important project,” Mr. Sbrega said yesterday, after addressing a Higher Education Committee hearing on community college issues. “We really need it.”
Long-term, the Fall River-based BCC and the city will seek state bonding to open a permanent New Bedford campus, but it could take years to complete.
Mr. Sbrega, Mayor Lang, Executive Director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council Matthew Morrissey, the city’s legislative delegation and BCC officials met with Mr. DiMasi in his Statehouse office.
Most of the group also saw Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
While the House leaders offer no commitments, the New Bedford delegation said it was receptive to the idea. The funding would come either from money in the state budget or capital bonding.
“The most important thing was to try to make a strong presentation, to make a full-court press that this was something we were serious about, and the fact that this was an unmet need,” said Rep. Robert M. Koczera, D-New Bedford. “This is a way for our region to pull ourselves up by its own bootstraps.”
The House Ways and Means Committee will unveil its budget proposal in April. The final state budget is due by July 1.
Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said the purpose of the meetings was “to make them aware of the need we have in terms of education, economic development and workforce development.”
“If a company is looking to move into New Bedford, one of the issues they look at is the level of skill, the level of education the work force has,” Rep. Cabral said.
Rep. Stephen R. Canessa, D-New Bedford, and Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, who represents part of the city, also attended the meetings.
Mayor Lang pledged to seek a downtown BCC campus in his State of the City speech earlier this month.
Mr. Lang said yesterday that a greater BCC presence was needed to help people attain their high school equivalency degrees and get fast vocational training to meet the demands of an employer, besides offering college degrees.
He said it also would spur economic development through downtown construction and make the city more inviting to new residents and visitors.
“I intend to have BCC have a very close alliance with our public school system in New Bedford, so we have the ability to have students who for whatever reason are not on that graduation track enroll at BCC, get back on board, and teach them vocational skills and make them productive members of our society,” Mayor Lang said.
If the money is approved, it could help BCC accept more students in programs that are booked up, including nursing, which has 1,000 applicants for 96 slots.
“At the other end of the spectrum, the hospitals and caregivers are all crying for nurses,” Mr. Sbrega said.
The push for a greater BCC presence in downtown New Bedford comes as Gov. Deval Patrick and state legislators are making higher education a priority. Later this session, a higher education reorganization and an aggressive, statewide construction and modernization plan are expected to be announced by Statehouse leaders.
Mr. Sbrega, speaking before the Higher Education Committee, said SouthCoast needs a renewed emphasis on education. Committee member Rep. David Sullivan, D-Fall River, agreed, saying manufacturing jobs are on the decline.
Mr. Sbrega also called for an advisory group to coordinate the state’s educational system, all the way from elementary school through college. However, he said it is crucial to retain local control of community colleges.
“The literacy levels in Southeastern Massachusetts and the educational attainment levels in Southeastern Massachusetts are very low,” Mr. Sbrega said. “We are attracting population into the region, but the literacy and educational attainment levels are low. I take that personally. It’s my job to fix that.”
Publication date: March 23, 2007
By David Kibbe