Some Ground-breaking Developments Signal a New Era at Springfield College
When it comes to facilities planning, Springfield College President Richard Flynn wrote the book on the subject.
Actually, he’s written four of them.
That’s just one line on the resume Flynn brought with him to Western Mass., after living and working in Omaha, Neb. for most of his life, serving as a dean at the University of Nebraska and an interim president at Peru State College. But it’s a line he’s been asked, repeatedly, to prove out at Springfield, and judging by the mounds of dirt created by recently broken ground on campus, he’s doing just that.
Flynn took his post in March of 1999, and shortly thereafter launched an extensive strategic plan for the college that included 10 broad goals, such as maintaining financial integrity and enhancing academic programs.
“What we wanted to do was create an action plan that was aimed at where we aspired to be and the objectives we needed to reach to get there,” he said. “We started with 10 fairly general goals, with specific steps within each of them. Not all of the areas we addressed were matters we were behind on, but rather areas we needed to maintain, to retain our vibrancy, reputation, and image.”
The general nature of those goals has allowed the strategic planning process to remain fluid, added Flynn, and has provided for a clear direction while also allowing for constant tweaking.
“These are living goals,” he said. “The specific strategies change year in and year out, and we have a lot of great discussions because of that. But we also track our progress each spring and detail it in the annual report, and each year we’re looking to see that each financial measure we’ve employed has improved.”
One such measure has been the capital campaign, The Leadership Campaign for the 21st Century, which began in 2002 and is funding many of these new and ongoing developments. It has a goal of raising $40 million, and has about $27.5 million, and two years, to go.
“It’s an aggressive goal for us,” said Flynn. “Up to this point, the college hadn’t had a major campaign in 35 years, and this is an international campaign that is drawing on the support of alumni, the business community, foundations, and friends.”
That campaign has already made a number of visible improvements to the campus possible, including the renovation of the Brennan Center, home to the School of Social Work, and Wilbraham Hall, once used for storage and now home to several academic departmental offices.
And in addition to those renovations, the college has also broken ground on Schoo Hall, the Bemis Science Center, a new residence hall and suites, the Cheney dining hall, and new athletic fields that include 4 1/2 acres of synthetic, all-weather turf.
“We’ve also added green space,” said Flynn, referring to new lawn areas and quads scattered across the campus. “We know students have a need for green space, so not to feel restrained by boundaries.
“There are many other small things that people don’t readily notice,” he added, continuing the long list of recent improvements and additions to the Springfield College campus. “We’ve done a lot of things to improve the classrooms, and the residence halls have new bathrooms. Those are examples of the things we’re adding to improve the overall quality of life on campus.”
As the campaign continues, a new field house will be constructed, as will a new wellness center, a renovated beverage hall, and a new college union.
“There’s a ripple effect,” Flynn said. “When all is said and done, very few parts of this campus will be left untouched.”
The physical improvements are just one of many initiatives designed to raise the profile of the college, and judging by the school’s recent financial success (which landed it on the Affiliated Chambers’ Super 60 list this year) that profile is already inching up.
With so many construction projects recently completed, underway, or on the drawing board, it’s hard to imagine that the college would be moving forward in the black, but Flynn, returning to his facility-planning roots, said he’s not surprised.
“One of the most important things to remember about facilities planning is that facilities facilitate programs,” he stressed. “A lot of time has been spent on building infrastructure. And as we start to cultivate that, we are afforded a chance to take a closer look at every part of an organization … how things are done, and how much of yesterday will still be relevant tomorrow.”
Revisit, Repair, and Retain
As those improvements continue, Flynn said the college has also kept a close eye on tuition rates, in an effort to keep them as low as possible. To date, the college has seen gradual increases, like nearly all colleges, but has remained about 10% below the national average for private colleges.
“When I arrived, we had 180 empty beds,” said Flynn. “Now, those beds are filled, and we’ve added 205 additional beds. Since each year, a major stimulus for us is to fill those beds, that’s an excellent benchmark for success.”
What’s more, Flynn said the physical improvements on campus as well as the addition of several new academic programs and majors over the past seven years, including a new school of Health Sciences and a doctorate in Physical Therapy, have made Springfield College an institution of choice for many students, further augmenting marketing efforts and graduation and retention rates.
“About 80% of our first-year students report that this was their first choice of college, and it’s easier to keep them here if this is where they wanted to be in the first place,” said Flynn.
Another facet in retaining students, however, has taken shape as a series of ‘community engagement’ initiatives, also detailed in an annual report by the college.
Each year, the program allocates five professional staffers to work exclusively on community outreach programs, to the tune of $229,000 in annual salaries and benefits. It also stipulates that Springfield College regularly donate the use of many of its facilities to nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Senior Games, and serves as the umbrella program for the PROHill Initiative, dedicated to renewing the Old Hill neighborhood and rehabilitating 100 homes over the next five years. Artistic and athletic-based community outreach programs are also part of the project.
It’s one of Flynn’s favorite projects, and a forward-thinking endeavor, he said, which is focused not only on development of the college but of its namesake city, too.
“I’ve done a lot of work with community-school initiatives,” he said, referring to another line, and list of publication credits, on his resume. “We can’t improve the community without everyone contributing, and if the city gets bad publicity, it hurts the college too.
“But beyond that, it’s difficult to imagine the city of Springfield without its colleges,” he continued. “I’m not sure the colleges are fully appreciated for the vibrancy and vitality they add to a city, and each one in Springfield is doing its share.”
The further cultivation of that vitality is one of those 10 broad goals that Flynn set out for the college and himself in 1999, and as the final two years of the Leadership campaign approach, accounting for every dollar raised will be just as important as accounting for every reason why those contributions are necessary.
“We have a passion for excellence, but at the same time, a compassion for others,” Flynn said of himself and the college community. “This had been my mission since day one, and I’m proud to say that everyone here knows what that mission is: to add a sense of community, good morale, and great partnerships.”
And while he may not have time for writing these days, Flynn is indeed helping to author a new chapter in Springfield College’s proud history.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]