So, here’s a multiple choice question for you. How many square feet do you imagine the campus of Springfield Technical Community College encompasses? a) 50,000 square feet b) 100,000 square feet c) 250,000 square feet, or d) 1 million square feet. Here’s a clue that will be totally useless: enrollment at the affectionately-known “Stick” is around 5,000 students.
The answer is d) 1 million square feet — which seems impossible, but of course there is a story behind the girth of STCC.
The college occupies the site of the old Springfield Armory. That Armory was the primary center for the manufacture of United States military firearms from 1777 until its closing in 1968. The Armory was famous, first as the United States’ primary arsenal during the Revolutionary War, then as the only armory remaining after the Harpers Ferry armory was destroyed in the Civil War. Most of the weaponry used by Union Troops came from this Armory, and its production outnumbered the production of Confederate firearms by more than thirty to one. Today, the Armory is home to STCC, but also to the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and Museum.
The history is fascinating, and suffuses the campus with a redolent atmosphere (and a host of problems) today. The parade grounds form a beautiful quadrangle surrounded by historic buildings –all of which go by a number, not a name–but sadly, they are also full of lead from the Armory’s manufacturing history, and so children under the age of eighteen may not set foot on the lawn. The cost to clean up this site is extraordinary, as is the cost to bring the buildings occupied by STCC up to present day standards; the backlog of deferred maintenance is estimated to lie in excess of $300 million. This historic, epic site of “STICK” which is so appealing even on the rainy day we visited appears to be both a blessing and a curse.
President John Cook was waiting for us with umbrellas at the entrance to one of the original buildings on the site. Springfield Technical Community College is the only technical college in the fifteen community college system, and as such is an essential buttress in the educational profile of the region. However, enrollment has been declining from a high of 7,000 in 2012 (when so many people were unemployed) to about 4,250 this past fall. Most community colleges in New England have seen enrollment decline over the last five years because of changing demographics and a lower rate of unemployment, but the drop at STCC has been particularly steep.
Added to the dramatic need for facility enhancements, the dropping of important programs (including automotive) is important to note. But that program would have required a multi-million dollar garage renovation, plus major funds to purchase up-to-date vehicles for students to work on, and its closing seemed inevitable. Even the critically important and innovative Health Services headquarters (Building 20) where a majority of the students take classes has about half its 190,000 square feet declared off limits because of asbestos. But .. the new retrofit of the Student Learning Commons (Building 19) is super inspiring and awesome.
According to President Cook, if you stood it up vertically, this long, thin horizontal building would be the second-tallest building in Massachusetts.
STCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution like Holyoke Community College (more than 25% of its students identify as Latinx) and another 15% of its enrollment is African-American. The college is serving an important role in offering an affordable, practical education to populations that have been chronically underserved .. especially through its superb Health Services curriculum and its innovative Gateway to College program, allowing high school dropouts to earn their high school diploma and get college credits at the same time.
As we closed, President Cook spoke forcefully about STCC’s equity initiatives, sharing that there is nothing more important to the future of the college than this critical work. Take a listen here: