Bridgewater State eyes Yarmouth for satellite school

Bridgewater officials have met with Yarmouth leaders over the course of several months about the possibility of leasing space at the Laurence C. MacArthur School on Route 28, Dennis-Yarmouth Superintendent Carol Woodbury said Friday. The pre-K to Grade 3 building is slated to close at the end of this school year because of declining enrollment in the D-Y district, she said.

Bridgewater’s expansion into Yarmouth is not a done deal, but there is interest in moving it forward, Woodbury said. The decision on what to do with the building is in the hands of the town’s selectmen, she said, because it’s owned by the town, not the school district.

Town Administrator William Hinchey declined comment.

The MacArthur school building, built in 1950, is across from Yarmouth Town Hall. It is on the same campus as the former John Simpkins Elementary School, which closed in 2006 and is being redeveloped into senior apartments.

Bridgewater State officials have not confirmed the precise location, but through a statement made clear the university’s strong interest in the Cape.

“Bridgewater State University is actively considering the feasibility of locating targeted continuing education and graduate education programs on Cape Cod,” Frederick W. Clark Jr., executive vice president for external affairs, said.

Clark’s statement goes on to say that the college’s research shows the demographics and geography in Yarmouth and Dennis are best suited for a satellite campus and that Bridgewater State is looking to explore a “long-term partnership.”

This semester, there is a total of 522 Cape Cod and Islands students enrolled in Bridgewater State – 436 undergraduates and 86 graduate students, according to Clark.

Details should emerge in the next few weeks, but several things have to happen before the university can use the building. The regional school department has to officially give it back to the town as surplus property and Yarmouth selectmen have to decide what they want to do with it.

Then, Bridgewater State has to get permission from the Division of Capital Asset Management on how much it can pay to lease the building.

A source with knowledge of the talks said Bridgewater wants to establish a full-fledged satellite campus, offering a wide variety of the more than 30 degree programs it offers at its off-Cape campus.

Bridgewater State is located 32 miles from the Bourne Bridge and is 58 miles from the MacArthur building.

The possibilities are endless, Woodbury said. “I am thrilled beyond belief,” she said. “I see the opportunity to reuse a building intended for education in an educational way.”

The proposed campus also provides Cape teachers with professional development opportunities closer to home, she said. “I think it’s so good for Cape Cod,” she said.

State Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, said having a four-year school in Yarmouth would allow Cape students to live at home, saving on the expense of room and board at a college.

Kevin Morris, owner of the Morris, O’Connor & Blute Funeral Home and president of the Yarmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, said Bridgewater State would a boon to local businesses, such as sandwich and coffee shops.

“It certainly would be a perfect use for that building,” Morris said, noting the recent zoning changes approved by town meeting aimed at redevelopment. “It brings people in and makes for a diverse, thriving community. … It would be tremendous.”

It’s unclear if Bridgewater would use the existing 12 classrooms or seek permits to renovate the building, Woodbury said.

Bridgewater already has a presence on the Cape with a limited partnership at Cape Cod Community College, as do a handful of other colleges and universities that collaborate to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing, communications and liberal arts.

Michael Gross, spokesman for CCCC, said he is aware of Bridgewater’s interest in Yarmouth, but the community college does not see the program as a threat.

“We don’t anticipate it changing anything we’re doing,” he said.

The only other four-year college on Cape Cod is the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, which offers an undergraduate program for full-time students in specialized fields.