NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Dartmouth has officially pulled the plug on its historic Star Store Building in downtown New Bedford, much to the dismay of the city’s mayor.
In a letter sent to staff and faculty Monday, UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller said the state’s budget does not include funding for the building, which houses a number of the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ studio programs.
Fuller said the Star Store Building, which serves roughly 200 students annually, has been fully funded by the state since 2001.
“That generous support has now come to an end,” Fuller wrote. “UMass Dartmouth has been advised to transition our programs out of the Star Store ahead of the fall semester.”
Fuller explained that the university’s original lease on the Star Store Building expired back in 2021. The state assisted UMass Dartmouth by supporting a two-year extension on the lease, which allowed the university to keep the Star Store Building.
The Commonwealth’s budget “wasn’t able to accommodate the funds to support UMass Dartmouth’s continued use of the facility,” according to Fuller, and the university can’t afford to operate it next year without state assistance.
“The unfortunate reality is that, given the Star Store’s age, its deferred maintenance needs are very significant, with repairs needed to multiple systems in the near term,” he explained. “Additionally, recent state legislation now prevents the university from maintaining the building in any way, which we understand to extend to our routine cleaning and maintenance contract.”
Fuller said UMass Dartmouth has “explored every avenue” to keep the Star Store Building open.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he was surprised by the decision, adding that none of the parties involved brought their concerns to him directly.
“The fact that none of them thought my involvement was necessary, and that no one informed me that the university was on the brink of pulling out of the city, suggested to me that a new agreement was merely a matter of time,” Mitchell said. “The notion that the university’s decision ultimately hinged on whether a particular line item was included in the new state budget strains credulity.”
“The failure to arrive at an agreement will now be felt by the students, faculty, residents, local businesses and the city, which stands to lose a major anchor institution,” he continued.
Mitchell said the city will be working with the state in hopes that “this short-sighted decision can be rectified.”
Fuller said UMass Dartmouth will continue to have a “strong presence” throughout New Bedford since it is also where the School of Marine Science and Technology, the Law School’s Justice Bridge program and the Worker’s Education Program are based out of.
The school will begin to transition its academic programs out of the Star Store Building, “effective immediately,” according to Fuller. The university is also relocating 24 organized classroom activities to appropriate facilities for the fall semester.
“We are in the process of securing some temporary classrooms to help mitigate the pressure on our instructional space,” Fuller said. “It’s heartbreaking to leave this wonderful facility that has formed a vibrant nexus for the arts at the heart of downtown.”