Editorial: Is Dot the next stop for high tech college?

UMass Boston has the distinction of being the only institution of higher learning fortunate enough to call Dorchester home. But the state university may have company in the coming years.

The region’s turbulent higher education landscape, coupled with the scarcity of land and the premium price tag of downtown real estate, has put the neighborhood on the radar of at least one institution.

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology— BFIT for short— is eyeing Dorchester as a potential relocation from its campus on Berkeley Street in the Back Bay. The college, founded in 1908, has been bucking the national trend of slumping enrollment by seeing a 20 percent growth in new students in recent years, according to its own statistics.

The three-building campus that houses BFIT is outdated and increasingly cramped. But its prime location offers the college and its leadership an opportunity to reboot their physical plant in a new spot. The institute plans to sell the buildings and move to a brand new facility by 2022. The property is already on the market, and the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has been retained to help them find their future home.

“A new facility will dramatically improve our learning environment, provide flexibility, and give us additional room to grow as we meet the demands of Massachusetts industry and provide pathways for more young people in Greater Boston,” said BFIT president Tony Benoit.

Benoit says that Dorchester and Mattapan are high on the college’s punch list of potential landing spots. Like the majority of BFIT’s student body, Benoit himself lives in Dorchester, near Codman Square. More than half of the college’s students live in the city of Boston, he says. Of that number, the bulk live in Dorchester. Benoit would like to find a site near a mass transit hub to make the commute easier for his students, most of whom already rely on the T to get to their classes.

They are hoping to find a site of roughly two acres, depending on the layout, with room for a facility that could be as much as 100,000 square feet in size. Both the Red Line and Fairmount Line corridors are in play for BFIT’s search, he said.

“The way it stands right now, the commuter rail is a much less convenient option,” Benoit said. “We’re hopeful that if we find the right location and it’s the right setting and neighbors and geometry, we’d become one of the voices saying, ‘Let’s make this line more viable.’”

Benoit and his board have set a goal for themselves to be in a new building — or buildings— by September 2022. It’s an ambitious schedule, given the tricky sequence that would be necessary to effectuate a sale, the construction of a new campus, and a relocation— all while continuing to educate some 600 existing students.

Benoit says those ranks are growing each year due to the demand of the region’s job market. BFIT specializes in churning out well-trained, “middle-skill” workers in high-demand fields like mechanical engineering, HVAC, and construction management. Boomtime Boston is desperate for the talent that BFIT helps to groom. The institute’s success of late drew both Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker to their campus last November for a networking event that served to highlight the skills gap that BFIT is helping to fill in.

“The employers we work with are constantly telling us we want more of your great graduates. We absolutely need to bring more people in,” he said.

Dorchester would be a great place for this sort of institution— one that matches our young people up with high-demand, good-paying employment. Despite the city’s booming economy, our neighborhood continues to trail the citywide average in unemployment rates. They would be a terrific addition to our neighborhood.

– Bill Forry