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Lowerdeck

Priorities of Central Mass.

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Feel free to share your ideas, suggestions, comments.

First off... commuter rail needs to be expanded in and out of Worcester. The current MBTA system is lousy, mostly thanks to CSX. Something needs to be done, whether new right of way or some agreement between the state and the company.

Secondly... is anything ever going to happen with the Common Outlets site? Wasn't CitySquare supposed to be coming around sooner than this?

Third ... traffic in some areas is not pleasant. Ideally, commuter rail expansion would be nice to include connecting suburbs to Worcester. But is Worcester big enough to be a hub of its own? Having to deal with 395 on a daily basis, Oxford and Auburn (south of the Pike) is not pleasant. If commuter service - rail, WRTA, whatever - is expanded from suburbs like Oxford, Shrewsbury, Leicester/Spencer ... good. If they need widening on 395 to Route 16... could be better but could be worse.

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Unfortunately, I think the first thing that has to happen to improve Central Mass is to improve the economy. And that means bringing in local companies and local businesses. The region has been hurt by consolidations and buy-outs which have cost many jobs in the downsizing and closure of many business campuses.

Ultimately, people in Worcester really aren't interested in big change. True they whine alot about how nice the city was long ago, but they only want to return to that kind of 30's and 50's small city lifestyle, which alas simply can't exist in the modern world. They aren't interested in putting the effort into major changes to create a new urban environment because, unfortunately, most of the people here really aren't interested in it. While Worcester is a city in name, it really is a collection of smaller neighborhoods, more akin to suburbs shairng the same name.

But why does it need to? If people want an urban experience they can easilly get to Botson or Providence. They have all the services they need, they are not hurting terribly for crime or joblessness, and they still get to have their small time, suburban experience as well. It's not my ideal, but I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that this is what a majority of the people around here really want.

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OK, here's an idea.

City Square is pretty much a dead project. but the city still needs to get life back in the downtown area. Meanwhile, Quinsigamond Community College is busting at the seams. They are considering building a new classroom building, and their existing buildings aren't necessarily top notch. Additionally, the governor is now proposing free tuition to all Massachusetts residents at the community colleges. Quinsigamond needs room, the city needs activity. It seems like a match made in heaven!

Instead of investing in a new bypass road and a new building, why not move Quinsigamond to City Square? If possible, renovate the existing building. If not, rebuild a new structure or structures. This will of course cost more than expanding the current campus, but it would be wise investment by both the state and the city. For Quinsig, it means being able to expand their critical allied health programs, thus filling the need for skilled nursing help in the city. It will allow them to handle increased enrollment due to educational plans by the governor as well as offer increased back to work and adult education programs. For the city they gain a vibrant college culture right downtown, as well as helping make the city more competitive with a better educated population.

One of the tricks to making something like this work is to find ways to tie Quinsig in with both the needs of the city as well as the needs of the other colleges in the area. The college could partner with the Worcester Crafts Center to offer actual associate degree programs, and hopefully bring an artistic element to the downtown area. They can also grow the applied arts and game design/computer programming programs. This will not only draw students downtown, they will then be better able to proceed to the four year colleges to continue their education. A downtown campus could offer consortium classes that individual schools would not be able to generate enough enrollment for. In fact, it could become a kind of student center, offering enrichment programs, talks, and an active inter-college student center, thus making Worcester an even more attractive educational choice.

The role of the Community Colleges is to respond to the needs of the local community. By working closely with the City, the other colleges in the Worcester Consortium, and locating their campus downtown, they could ensure a vibrant future for both the college and the city.

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Getting Quinsig downtown would be nice. I don't think anyone would deny that. However, I would prefer to see one of the four year colleges that can draw good residential population do something significant downtown. From a standpoint of revitalizing downtown and making it more of a destination and hipspot ... a community college with commuter students will see people coming into the city for their classes and maybe a quick bite and then drive back to Oxford or West Boylston or wherever. If a place like Holy Cross or WPI built a downtown campus, where students come from all over the place, more students would be around to actually explore the area.

I went to college in Danbury CT. Down there, there's a new apartment building built for students as an alternative to dorms. Downtown business has shot up as a result, cause there's more people there in closer proximity. The dorm students on campus meanwhile rely heavily on cooking or getting takeout from neighborhood pizza/Chinese places.

Question becomes... what Worcester four year college drawing heavily from out of region would be adventurous enough (or needing expansion badly enough) to lure downtown?

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You are not going to find that in any of the existing large colleges. The main colleges - WPI, Assumption, and Holy Cross, actually tend to be chosen specifically because they are closed campuses, sheltered environments. Clark already has a presence on Main Street, and that has not done much for that area. UMass is better where it is. The college of Pharmacy already has a campus and dorms downtown. The only one I could even see moving downtown that has enough size to be worth it is, and it seems they are more interested in the opposite, is Becker.

I think Quinsig works because it is the least "offensive" to the other colleges. As a community college it can work together with the others without exciting turf wars. Worcester has the consortium - student can take classes at other colleges. Quinsig can be pitched right to get occasional students from other colleges. That makes it a great mingling ground.

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