WESTFIELD — Gov. Charlie Baker announced during his visit to Westfield State University’s campus on Tuesday that the university will receive a $21.25 million investment from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to renovate its oldest building, Parenzo Hall. The funding to Westfield State is made possible by H.4549, “An Act Providing for Capital Repairs and Improvements for the Commonwealth,” a bill ceremonially signed by Baker during the campus visit.
Through the Parenzo Hall renovation project, the university aspires to transform the dated building into a state-of-the-art hub for student success and workforce development. In addition to optimal space utilization, renovations will create two new centers: the Center for Innovation in Education and Industry Partnerships and the Center for Student Success and Engagement. In addition to benefitting Westfield State students, the centers are intended to have far-reaching impact beyond the university’s physical campus.
“The educational and community collaborations that will grow in this newly renovated facility will have a boundless impact on our students, local high-school students, and members of the surrounding communities and businesses beyond our Westfield campus,” said President Ramon Torrecilha. “Westfield State University is greatly appreciative of this vital state investment. The enhancements and new programs made possible with this funding will enable us to further improve accessibility to high-quality, affordable public higher education in Western Massachusetts.”
According to Torrecilha, nearly 94% of Westfield State students are Massachusetts residents, and the majority go on to build their lives and careers in the Bay State following graduation.
Overall, H.4549 authorizes approximately $3.9 billion to address the Commonwealth’s statewide capital needs, including higher-education campuses, health and human services facilities, state office buildings, public-safety facilities, and courts. The bond bill authorizes $950 million for public higher-education investments.
“This plan marks a critical turning point in the Commonwealth’s approach to capital funding for public higher education,” state Education Secretary James Peyser said. “Our goal is to maximize the use and functionality of existing spaces, align programs to meet regional and statewide workforce needs, strengthen partnerships between higher education and private-sector employers, and encourage more creative and efficient use of existing spaces.”
Parenzo Hall has not undergone major renovations since its opening in 1956. The renovation project is consistent with the Baker-Polito administration’s approach to capital investment that emphasizes repairing and modernizing existing assets, while ensuring that spending is always maintained at an affordable level. Nearly matching the state’s $21.25 million investment, Westfield State will invest nearly $20 million of university funds into the project, which has a total cost of $40 million.
Parenzo Hall’s Center for Innovation in Education and Industry Partnerships will leverage technology to serve as a nexus for innovative collaboration in Western Mass., partnering with K-12 school districts, community colleges, and industry partners. It will teach students and community partners how to engage productively in online hybrid environments that increase flexibility for students, facilitate co-enrollment, expand course choices, and provide a bridge to employment.
The Center for Student Success and Engagement will address the student-outcome goals of the Vision Project (increasing retention and graduation rates while reducing the achievement gap). The project will also address the continuing decline in the number of working-age adults. The center will increase student preparation for advanced learning and support exploration of career pathways in elementary and high schools to prepare them for on-the-job training. New and in-demand certificate programs, as well as advanced study options, will be offered to its business partners, utilizing technology.
According to Torrecilha, the two new Centers will be linked to offer students the opportunity to engage with industry professionals, work on real-world application of their knowledge and skill sets, and explore career opportunities.
“As a graduate of Westfield State, I know how valuable the university is to students from the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire district and throughout the Commonwealth alike,” said state Sen. Donald Humason Jr. “I am pleased that this bond authorization will make important improvements to the infrastructure of the campus, ensuring this important resource will be available for students for years to come.”
Added state Sen. John Velis, “I am thrilled that Westfield State University and other state colleges are receiving these funds. Investing in the facilities at these schools shows the Commonwealth’s continued commitment to improving public higher education. Keeping the buildings up to date is essential to ensuring that our public colleges and universities remain at the forefront of technology, innovation, and creativity. These funds will have a real and substantial impact on the success of students, faculty, and the institutions as a whole.”