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UMass coming to downtown Brockton

Giving a boost to the downtown business district, the university will provide college level courses at its CareerWorks job center.

Sean Flynn, Enterprise Staff Writer

Brockton -- CareerWorks' new location across from City Hall and plans to expand its role with college-level courses will provide another boost to the downtown business district, local officials said Thursday.

The University of Massachusetts, which manages the job placement and training center, announced that CareerWorks will move from 157 Centre St. to the Rockland Trust Bank building at 34 School St.

"The institute's move to School Street is the right move at the right time," said David Curtis, chairman of the 21st Century Corp. and president of Community Bank.

"This brings a powerful economic-development asset right to the heart of downtown and strengthens our ability to address the challenges and opportunities present in today's economy," Curtis said.

The new site on School Street is within walking distance of the downtown commuter-rail station and the Brockton Area Transit bus terminal.

CareerWorks opened in February 1999 with a $1.2 million federal grant to provide employment and training opportunities to area residents.

One of the seven "one-stop" career centers set up in the state, CareerWorks was designed to provide a range of services, from helping clients on their first job hunt to finding work for laid-off employees and assisting workers in upgrading their skills.

The center is managed by the Donahue Institute -- a UMass unit that offers economics courses, conferences and training programs -- and has a charter from the Brockton Area Workforce Investment Board.

John Hoey, spokesman for the university, said CareerWorks serves about a dozen communities in the region. The agency has served more than 3,500 workers and 300 businesses since it opened, he said.

Now, at its new location, the facility will be called The UMass Center for Professional Development and CareerWorks.

It will expand its role beyond the job placement duties outlined in the workforce charter and the training courses currently provided for certain workers, such as police officers.

Organizers hope the center will develop into a UMass satellite campus where students, such as nurses, with associate's degrees can complete work for their bachelor's degree right in Brockton.

The university also wants to offer distance-learning courses, which are taken mostly off-campus through television or the Internet.

"Our economy and quality of life, more than ever, depends on providing access to education and training opportunities for the people who make up our communities," said Lynn Griesemer, executive director of the Donahue Institute.

Mayor John T. Yunits Jr. made it a goal of his administration to create and education and economic-development center in the building, which Rockland Trust recently sold to developer John Valco. The bank will move most of its operations from there to a new Belmont Street location, but maintain a small walk-up branch in the School Street building.

Yuntis hailed the UMass decision.

"The university's decision to expand on School Street is a tremendous show of confidence in the city's downtown business climate and will bring thousands of people to the core of our city," the mayor said.

When UMass sought bids earlier this year for a downtown location, only two people responded: Valco and businessman John Merian, owner of Tuxedos by Merian on Main Street.

Valco offered 22,694 square feet on the first and second floors of the Rockland Trust building, with 15 offices on the first floor, 14 offices on the second floor, a conference room and lunch-lounge areas on both floors.

UMass will pay Valco $11.66 per square foot during the first year of the three-year lease, $12.10 per square foot in the second year and $12.54 in the third year.

Merian offered 19,530 square feet ant 141-143 Main St., the building adjacent to his business. The space was vacated by the state's Department of Social Services in April 2000.

Merian said in his bid he would make renovations to meet the university's requirements. He quoted a rental rate of $6.40 per square foot.

Brian Donnelly, executive director of CareerWorks, said before the winning bid was selected that the university would choose the space that meets its needs and is the best bid qualitatively. There was no obligation to choose the low bidder.

Donnelly declined to make the bids public until bidders were notified of UMass' decision, even though the secretary of state said the bids are public record once the deadline for submitting them had passed. UMass finally provided the bids Thursday afternoon.

Merian had mixed emotions when he heard about the decision, but was upbeat.

"We're pleased that CareerWorks and the Donahue Institute will be locating in the heart of downtown and creating opportunities for all of us," Merian said. "We're disappointed we weren't the winner of the bid though. We thought it was a good package, but we'll move on."

Other organizations are relocating to the Rockland Trust building also.

The New England Institute for Law Enforcement Management, which recently affiliated with the university to deliver leadership programs for high-ranking police officers throughout New England, recently moved there.

The Brockton 21st Century Corp., the city's non-profit economic development agency, is also hoping to move into the bank building.

To serve the career center's clients and students and allow development of nearby buildings, such as the former United Furniture building at Motello and Centre streets, Yunits wants to build a parking garage on a large lot adjacent to Rockland Trust.

There also is a need for parking among employees of City Hall, W.B. Mason and the MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce -- all near the site of the proposed new parking garage.

Read article: UMass coming to downtown Brockton

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