Franklin Institute moving to Dudley
Sale of S. End property should cover new campus costs
THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, a fast-growing school serving mostly students of color, is selling its South End location and moving to a brand new campus in Roxbury’s Dudley Square neighborhood with hopes to begin holding classes there in two years.
“What we’re really looking at is how do we take everything we’ve learned and catapult ourselves into the 21st century,” said Tony Benoit, the president of the technical college.
With plans for 85,000 gross square feet of new construction, the development should freshen up the lot at the corner of Eustis Street and Harrison Avenue, the former site of Harrison Supply Co. The building will be several stories tall with “a few interesting architectural features,” some new greenspace, and parking for staff, Benoit said in an interview.
The Benjamin Franklin Institute is privately funded, and the sale of its building on Berkeley Street in the South End should provide at least enough money to buy the new land and construct and outfit the new campus, according to Benoit.
The move will plant the school in an up-and-coming neighborhood that is sometimes called the heart of black Boston. The college will also be closer to some of the people and institutions the school serves. Madison Park Vocational High School, which is the alma mater of many Benjamin Franklin students, is right around the corner. Boston Public Schools, which is the institute’s most important partner outside of the businesses that help steer the curriculum and hire graduates, is right down the street in the Bolling Building. Roxbury Community College, which Benoit considers a “sister institution,” is about a mile away.
Benoit has been talking with Roxbury Community College President Valerie Roberson, and he said they are both “excited about the possibility for some joint programming.” In a statement, Roberson said she and Benoit “look forward to greater collaboration between our institutions to provide the people of Roxbury and throughout Boston the opportunity to live and work in the communities they grew up in.”
Seventy percent of those enrolled at the institute are students of color, and 53 percent are first-generation college students. Enrollment is currently about 530.
A 2011 article about the school in CommonWealth noted that, in 2003, the trustees of the then-struggling institution voted to close it down. But students, parents, and staff rallied support and donations poured in, enabling it to stay afloat.
With business partners clamoring for a skilled workforce, Benjamin Franklin hasn’t faced the same challenges as small liberal arts schools. Benoit said the student body has grown 25 percent in the last few years, and he hopes to continue that growth.
“We actually have more employer demand for graduates than we have students to fill it,” Benoit said.
The new space will allow the school to be more flexible with its configurations and programming, and Benoit is open to potentially shifting the school’s calendar away from the traditional model that puts the start of the school year in September. In talks with employers and students, school officials are identifying the “demand for other arrangements, other sequences.”
If all goes according to plan, the school should break ground next spring and start classes at the new campus in the fall of 2021.
“We look forward to the college becoming an institutional anchor offering economic development and job skills to this diverse community and are excited to learn more about opportunities to collaborate,” said Jeanne Pinado, CEO of Madison Park Development Corporation, which creates and supports affordable housing.The institute has a long history in the city, and it got more than its name from the founding father who was born in Boston and made his riches in Philadelphia. When Benjamin Franklin died, he bequeathed 2,000 pounds sterling to both Boston and Philadelphia, and Boston used the funds to support an apprenticeship program.
In the early 20th century, the business titan and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie recommended shifting the mission slightly to a technical college and put up funds to help build a home for the school in the South End. The building that the institute is currently in the process of selling was built in 1908. Over the course of subsequent decades, the school disentangled itself from the city itself, but the mayor of Boston has historically held a spot on the board, Benoit said.