The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology announced this week that it will sell its storied building on Berkeley Street by 2022 and seek another location in a different part of Boston.
President Tony Benoit said the old building on Berkeley doesn’t serve the modern needs of the school, and with the hot real estate market, it made sense to unlock the value and seek a location elsewhere in the city.
“We think it would be best to start with a shell that is better suited to our needs or build from the ground up,” he said. “We could have stayed and tried to build a school building here and that would have been okay, but we thought it would be best to seek another location because of the way the market is going and the way the uses are going to unlock the value of the facility and look for a location in another part of the city.”
It would mark the exodus of another storied and old institution in the South End over the last year. Already, USES is in the process of selling its marquee building on the corner of Massachusetts and Columbus avenues, and the Emmanuel Gospel Center announced its exit in December after 70-plus years as well.
Benoit said it is sad to leave the neighborhood, but something that is required of their mission.
“Until the time we leave, we’ll continue to be the gathering place for the community that BFIT has been,” he said. “It’s sad to give up that connection. That was a difficult thing we had to take into consideration. It is a community building and has been for 111 years, but when you look at the value we can derive from a sale – it’s not fair to cling to nostalgia when that money can be put to use for the young people of Boston.”
He said there has been a stream of organizations leaving the South End, but he said it’s just the natural progression.
For instance, when the school was sited on Berkeley Street, it was described as being an industrial outpost on the fringes of downtown Boston. That certainly is no longer the case, and that kind of changes the mission of the technical college as well.
“These changes occur over and over again,” he said. “It’s not a small-scale local trend, but the natural evolution of cities.”
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) is a private nonprofit college focused on educating Boston-area youth for careers in growth industries. The college got its start with a bequest from Ben Franklin,, but was established only after a matching gift from Andrew Carnegie early in the 20th century, which was facilitated when the City of Boston provided the needed land. Enrollment has grown steadily over the last several years, rising more than 20 percent during a period of contracting college enrollment overall.
The college’s plan is to sell the land in the South End, use a substantial portion of the proceeds to find a new location, and employ the rest of the funds to enhance its existing $4 million endowment. The property is being marketed by the investment banking firm HFF. The real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has been hired to find a new location including up to 100,000 square feet of space.
Benoit said that one-quarter of the student body at BFIT comes from Dorchester, and that’s a place that, preliminarily, they are looking carefully at.
“About one-quarter of our students come from Dorchester,” he said. “There are still one or two locations there that might be in the range we’re looking at…Because of the connection to the students, that’s a place we are looking now.”
The idea of creating a new campus rather than sticking with the old campus has a lot to do with the technical training they now provide, and the age of the current facility – which was appropriate in 1908, but isn’t so much now.
He said it came down to deciding whether to pour money into maintenance, or create a new campus that could accelerate the momentum of the school, give it more notoriety and outfit it for a more modern curriculum.
“It’s a building that is at an age where it’s needs are accelerating,” he said. “It needs deep and thoughtful work.”
The timeline is pretty simple, Benoit said, with the school hoping it can be in its new location by the fall of 2022. Between then and now, they would remain in the South End.
“We are planning to be operating fully at a new location in September 2022,” he said. “We would stay here until that is a possibility. There might be some things that happen before that, but we still would need this space until then.”
With about 600 students, BFIT offers certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields including health information technology, automotive technology, mechanical engineering technology, heating and air conditioning, electrical engineering, and construction management. It is the only college in the region offering an associate degree in opticianry and a bachelor’s degree in automotive management.
BFIT works closely with more than 90 industry partners to create pipelines for training, jobs, and internships during each student’s education and upon graduation, with emphasis on high-demand STEM technology fields that lead to well-paying jobs.
There are about 75 full-time employees at the Institute, including 35 full-time faculty members.