NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- With the start of the fall semester less than two weeks away, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is gearing up for the return of students and the opening of the Center for Science and Innovation on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
The first academic department moved into the science center Tuesday, and the rest are expected to move in at the beginning of next week.
"This has been six or eight years in the making," James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance, said Tuesday. "I think it’s going to bring a lot of people to North Adams to see the science building; to see what we’re doing here on campus. It’s going to generate a lot of enthusiasm for parents and prospective students.
We’re going to have programs in the building, which we’ll invite the community too. It will be a really good opportunity for students to see science on display."
He shared the good news Tuesday, during a meeting at the college with local merchants aimed at preparing them for the return of students and highlighting some upcoming changes, including an influx of art students taking classes downtown.
"That building, being done, sets the stage for us to do another renovation in Bowman Hall," Stakenas said. "It’s about ready to go to bid. It will be a complete re-do of the building. (Bowman Hall) is primarily a classroom building now, and it will primarily be a classroom building when we reopen it next year. I fully expect to be sitting at this table a year from now, saying that we’ve just moved the first academic department into the building."
The renovation of Bowman Hall is displacing the college’s visual arts classes, which are temporarily being located to two spaces in the downtown.
"Painting and drawing is now being taught at Mass MoCA in Building 13," he said. "Our Press, which was located at 105 Main Street, has been relocated next to MCLA Gallery 51. This means everyday, there will be 30 to 50 students taking classes either at 49 Main Street, or at Mass MoCA."
In addition to moving the visual arts classrooms to the downtown, the college is working with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) to increase service between the college and Main Street.
"We’re working with BRTA to get more students to take the bus, rather than run a shuttle service. That means students will take the bus, get dropped off and have to walk someplace to take their class," Stakenas said. "We’ve never had classes in the downtown before. It will be nice for our students to get out, get downtown and take advantage of what is being offered."
Although classes begin on Sept. 4, students will begin arriving over Labor Day weekend, with the incoming freshman class arriving on Sept. 1.
"We’re opening the year with a great new class of nearly 450 students, representing 11 states," Denise Richardello, vice president of enrollment management and external relations, said. "About 68 percent of the class is from Massachusetts. New York is the second largest feeder state. About 20 percent of the class is from Berkshire County. We continue to see a much broader reach, pulling in students from states as far away as Florida and New Jersey. It’s quite different from 10 years ago, when our students primarily came from Massachusetts."
New students will participate in the "First Days" program, which includes the choice of climbing Mount Greylock, participating in service projects or going on an arts crawl through the downtown on Sept. 2.
"It’s a really exciting time," she said. "We have a couple of new programs in our interdisciplinary department and our athletic training major has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. We’ve hired a new career services director and we’re also adding a women’s lacrosse team in 2015."
Vice President of Student Affairs Charlotte Degen, said the college is working to provide students with mapped biking and walking routes for the downtown and announced the college’s new mascot will be unveiled Sept. 10, during the women’s volleyball game against Mount Holyoke. She also spoke about how local businesses can advertise on campus or connect with career services to advertise jobs or internships.
City Councilor David Bond, who owns The Range on Curran Highway, asked how local merchants could better serve the student population.
"I think the biggest issue tends to be that services and stores aren’t open late," Degen said. "It’s better than it was, but most of our students are still in class at 6 p.m."