Keene State College is moving forward with plans to create a “hub” for collaboration with area businesses after state funding for the project fell through.
Funds for the space on campus — which would be called the Monadnock Business Partnership Hub — were originally supposed to come from a one-time appropriation under Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed “Next Generation Workforce Initiative.”
But that allocation did not survive state budget negotiations, and Keene State is now exploring partnerships, grants, and donation and loan programs to support the project without state dollars, according to President Melinda Treadwell.
The hub would initially be focused on manufacturing and product design, Treadwell said, with a “makerspace” — a space outfitted with tools and equipment designed to encourage invention, innovation and collaboration — and technology-enhanced classrooms. It would also house the college’s precision manufacturing in optics program, which was developed in partnership with manufacturers such as BAE Systems and Moore Nanotechnology Systems.
Companies and students could work together in a range of ways through the hub, Treadwell said, offering the example of students helping to create prototypes for product design concepts.
Treadwell said Monday that the college has been working with city officials and Monadnock Economic Development Corp. to discuss alternative ways to fund the hub.
“I was thrilled to hear that the city felt that this business hub was really an important part of the economic engine of the future,” she said.
According to John G. “Jack” Dugan, president of the Keene-based economic development corporation, the hub could be funded through a combination of state and federal tax credits and grants, much like the expansion of the Keene Public Library and the construction several years ago of the new county courthouse.
Based on the college’s vision, the hub would be a good candidate for some of these programs, he said, such as the New Markets Tax Credits Program, a federal incentive geared toward promoting economic development in areas designated as low-income.
“So location, what it’s intended to do, how it helps rural manufacturers in New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont, how it’s in ... a growing industry, a precision industry — when you wrap it all up with the expertise at Keene State College, it’s a really attractive project,” Dugan said.
Keene State hopes to put the hub on Winchester Street on the site of Monadnock Hall, which would likely be razed rather than repurposed. An adjacent dorm, Randall Hall, would also be torn down to make room for green space, parking and entry points into the hub area, Treadwell said.
No one lives in Monadnock Hall, according to spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte, though it can be used as overflow dorm space if the college’s other residence halls reach capacity. Randall Hall has not been used as a residence hall for four years, Ricaurte said in an email.
That building previously housed the Hungry Owl, a student-run food pantry that moved out of Randall Hall in the spring amid the building’s uncertain future, The Equinox, Keene State’s student newspaper, reported. Last week, the pantry moved into a suite in the Owl’s Nest residence hall, according to Faculty Adviser Susan Whittemore, and Treadwell said the college is working to find a more permanent location.
Though the hub will be focused on precision manufacturing and product design initially, Treadwell said she hopes it can act as a “catalyst” for important conversations about workforce development and potentially expand to other industries in the future.
“It should be a place where businesses feel like they can come, and they can access our students, our students can access them, and together, us, the community college, the management program, anyone can start solving the challenges of the next years ahead,” Treadwell said. “That’s the vision for it.”
The college hopes to finalize plans for the project this spring, Treadwell said, with a target opening date of fall 2021.