BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — North Shore Community College’s plans to shift its culinary arts and cosmetology programs to a former bank building in downtown Lynn have collapsed like a half-baked cake.
“We are heartbroken because it would have been a great project,” said North Shore Community College interim President Janice Forsstrom.
The popular workforce programs, currently in the Berry Building at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School, need to move at the end of the academic year to make room for the new $133 million Essex Technical High School.
Without a new space, the two programs are in limbo at least for the coming school year. The college’s license to operate the cosmetology program expires in June and is site dependent, meaning it can’t be renewed until the college can meet specific space requirements, such as practice rooms.
The college is resuming its search for space with the state Division of Capital Asset Management, which will issue a request for proposals to find a suitable location by June 2015. It is also in discussion with new Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell about whether the college can make use of some of the technical school’s new culinary arts and cosmetology facilities.
The college has spent the last three years looking for a new home for these programs and thought it found one through an agreement with Higher Education Partners, a company that equips community college spaces.
The agreement called for the programs to relocate to 270 Union St. in Lynn, a three-story office building across the street from Lynn Community Health Center.
Higher Education Partners was to pay the upfront costs for the renovations and to lease the space, and the college was to share fees from the programs for 20 years. The programs are not easy to move because they require certain equipment and operate public learning labs: the Scholars Den Restaurant and a cosmetology salon, both of which are open to the public several times a week. The college faced a $2.5 million expense to outfit the spaces.
The goal was to get these programs up and running this past fall, but in July, the college announced a delay in the move. Since then, both the college and Higher Education Partners have agreed to vacate their agreement.
“At some point, it became fiscally undesirable for both parties,” Forsstrom said.
She said the community college would like to have a site for the programs in Lynn to take advantage of a cluster of food businesses there. The process to locate a space is now subject to an open bidding process with the state.
Higher Education Partners Vice President Bill Luster, a former Salem city planner who has also served as the executive director of the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development, had taken a leading role in the deal.
He echoed Forsstrom when he said in an email: “We could not complete the deal because it became fiscally undesirable for both parties.”
North Shore Community College took over these college-level programs from Essex Aggie in 1998 when county government dissolved, Forsstrom said. The programs, however, remained on Essex Aggie’s campus.
About 140 students are enrolled in the programs, with 40 students attending the one-year associate degree cosmetology program and the remaining 100 culinary students in various stages of completing their degrees, Forsstrom said.
Cosmetology students “will all complete their program by the end of May,” Forsstrom said. The college cannot accept new cosmetology students without a license.
The culinary students are being asked to complete as many hands-on cooking courses as they can this spring before the kitchens close for good. They will be able to fill other academic requirements later. The college does not plan to admit new students into the culinary arts program until it comes up with a transition plan.
Forsstrom could not say what ultimately might happen to both programs. The college will be discussing the situation with the faculty union.
“We are going to do the best we can for the programs, for the students and the faculty,” she said.
Incoming North Shore Community College President Patricia Gentile, who takes over Jan. 2, has expertise in operating such workforce programs, Forsstrom said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.