Montigny: UMD ‘Failed to Meet Its Responsibilities’ at New Bedford’s Star Store
NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — Sen. Mark Montigny is asking for Governor Maura Healey to step in and save UMass Dartmouth’s Star Store campus in downtown New Bedford, and he’s placing most of the blame for its departure squarely on the university itself.
Montigy (D-New Bedford) sent a letter to Healey on August 15 requesting the administration’s assistance in “protecting students at the Star Store College of Visual and Performing Arts as well as the greater downtown New Bedford economy.”
He stated that UMass Dartmouth “blindsided” students with the decision announced Monday to close the Star Store campus and move the classes back to the main campus in Dartmouth.
“Because of this, the extraordinary state investment in the campus is in jeopardy and the lives of the students are currently being dismantled,” Montigny wrote.
Montigny sponsored the 1996 law that turned the 19th-century department store into a university arts campus. The developer was able to purchase the building from the City of New Bedford’s redevelopment authority for $1, and the Commonwealth was supposed to purchase the property from the developer for $1 at the end of the lease. Montigny also had secured by law an $8 million bond once the building is transferred to the Commonwealth.
During the next 20-plus years, the Commonwealth paid over $2 million per year to fund the Star Store campus, as the College of Visual and Performing Arts helped revitalize downtown New Bedford.
UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller told students and staff in an email Monday announcing the departure from Star Store that it was looking for alternate locations for the 24 organized classrooms and 116 students scheduled for the campus in the upcoming fall semester because “next year’s state budget was not able to accommodate the funds to support UMass Dartmouth’s continued use of the facility.”
“Simply put, even were the building gifted to (the UMass Building Authority) for our use today, we could not afford to operate it next year without state assistance, much less make the most urgently needed repairs and begin to renovate it to meet the needs of the next generation of students,” Fuller wrote.
Montigny said it was the university, however, that failed to maintain the building.
“The university has failed to meet its responsibilities to secure and maintain the building,” Montigny wrote. “Through a series of direct communications and meetings with state agencies and officials over the past several years, it has become apparent that these public resources have been either squandered and/or exploited.”
Montigny wrote that it has been evidenced by “a building in significant disrepair despite tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars invested into it with zero accountability to date.”
“Additionally, students have told me directly that the university has failed in recent years to provide proper upkeep of their facilities and have even failed to provide the necessary faculty to support their academic programming,” he wrote. “We also learned that the university failed to fund a required capital reserve account over the life of their lease, further complicating the matter.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth) had issued a statement noting the “conclusion of this chapter” for the Star Store, and suggested it could “provide commercial space in the basement and first floor, office space on the second floor and housing on the top two floors.”
“It would be a shining example of how New Bedford has evolved,” he wrote.
Mayor Jon Mitchell and Councilor at Large Brian Gomes have also requested a meeting with the governor and other stakeholders to discuss an attempt to keep UMass Dartmouth in the Star Store for the foreseeable future.