|By Katelyn Gendron|
Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD The student population at Westfield State College has peaked at 5,000 with nowhere else to go but up. But according to college and state officials this academic institution is currently unable to accommodate more.
Barry Maloney, interim president of Westfield State College said enrollment applications have increased 38 percent over the past three years though the student population has only grown by 500. He attributed the small increase to limited classroom space and facilities such as science labs that are "woefully out of date."
However, that could all change with the passing of Governor Deval Patrick's Higher Education Bond Bill.
If passed, House Bill 4280, An Act Providing for the Public Higher Education Capital Improvement Needs of the Commonwealth, would allocate $2 billon over the next ten years for capital projects at state colleges and universities.
Of the $2 billion, Westfield State College would receive $23.1 million in aid for the construction of a new academic facility.
"It's a tremendous relief," Maloney said. "We can't raise that kind of money locally or borrow it. It's a historical proposal for higher education."
Maloney noted that the college has a budget of $60 million, making the construction of such a facility an impossibility as it would require one third of their budget.
"We can't do it without the state's support," he added.
Maloney said while Westfield State College has added some classroom space, a new freestanding academic facility has not been built since Wilson Hall during the late 1970s. Maloney added that the college would like to "tap into the interest" generated by the increasing application rate but that it would have to wait until more classroom space is built.
However, Rep. Donald Humason, Jr., R-Westfield, said he and Senator Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, believe that the governors appropriation of $23.1 million will not meet the needs of Westfield State College.
Humason noted that under this bill, the University of Massachusetts campuses will receive a total of $1 billion.
He said that institutions such as the University of Massachusetts, Boston, do not appropriate funds for facility maintenance, therefore forcing them to close buildings because they have become structurally unsafe. He added that academic institutions such as this do not allocate these funds in the hope that a Higher Education Bond Bill will "bail them out."
He said that Westfield State College appropriates a portion of its yearly operating budget to maintaining facilities.
Humason questioned why this bill "wrongly rewards" institutions like UMass Boston with such high funding.
He said he has spoken with Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education about amending the bill to appropriate more funding for Westfield State College.
"We're not going to get greedy here," he said, adding that the current funding is "woefully inadequate" in meeting the needs of the state institution with highest performance rate of all the state colleges.
"Providing modern, spacious academic facilities will ensure the College continues to attract the brightest students and faculty Massachusetts has to offer," Humason said.
The bill is currently being reviewed by the Joint Committee on Higher Education. Humason said he has invited representatives from Westfield State College to speak at the Committee's hearing on the Governor's Bond Bill on Nov. 1.
According to information released by Knapik's office, the bill will also be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and State Assets, and the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means prior to being brought before the Senate and House of Representatives.
"Expanded and renovated learning space is critical to the mission of providing quality, affordable, higher education and meeting the demand for a workforce educated for the 21st century," Knapik said. "As a member of both the Committee on Bonding and the Committee on Ways and Means, I look forward to helping this much-needed proposal through the legislative process. I am confident this bill will see broad-based support in the Legislature, as we recognize the need to update and modernize our public education system."