Holyoke Community College is finalizing plans to develop the lower floors of a historic building in the Holyoke Innovation District as the future home of its Culinary Arts and Hospitality programs.
Once completed, the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence will occupy the first and second floors of the 19,888 square-foot Cubit building at the corner of Appleton and Race streets, near the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center and the city's new cobblestone Canal Walk and bridge.
Friday, the building served as the backdrop for a press conference announcing $9.2 million in grants for community colleges and technical schools involved in job development programs.
HCC will receive $1.75 million to renovate the building for the center. The facility will allow for expansion of both credit and non-credit offerings.
"This building is absolutely wonderful," said Ronald Walker, state secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. "This program will allow for more admissions, more enrollment and more training, particularly in the food service industry, which is one of the growth areas of the Commonwealth."
Walker noted that the MGM casino in Springfield is expected to add more than 800 jobs alone in the culinary and hospitality areas.
"The kind of grants that we're making out of these funds are tied directly to getting people into work or training people so they can be more productive in their jobs," said James Peyser, secretary of education. "This isn't about training for training's sake; it isn't about education for education's sake. It's about education leading to career opportunities."
HCC Culinary Arts professor Mark Antsel, dressed in his white chef's coat and hat, called HCC's Culinary Arts program "a great secret in western Massachusetts."
"But for more than 20 years we have been leaders in maintaining culinary arts instructional excellence," he said. "If you have been in western Massachusetts for any length of time, you will have undoubtedly consumed some of our students' products. Our students and graduates of our program are employed throughout western Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley."
"What specifically this space is going to do for us," he added, "is allow us to modernize our facility, double and in some cases triple our teaching space."
Jeff Hayden, HCC's vice president of Business and Community Service, noted that, since 2010, the college and the HCC Foundation have invested more than $20 million in career based facilities to provide students with hands-on skills and new employment opportunities.
"That commitment will continue, and we're very proud of that," he said. "We're also proud that in this new center we're in the hub of the Innovation District in Holyoke, a place that is beginning to see private investment spurred on by public investment."
"This is really a partnership," said Holyoke mayor Alex Morse, "a gathering of ideas, together. It's not just about economic development, though it is that."
Katie Stebbins, assistant secretary of Housing and Economic Development, said the new facility was likely to be a model for other institutions that apply for the job development grant funds.
"They're going to come here and tour this, cause they're going to want to see how this is done," she said.
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) HCC Culinary Arts teacher Mark Antsell talks to state Education secretary James Peyser, right, before a press conference at The Cubit building in downtown Holyoke. (Right) A view from inside The Cubit building in Holyoke's Innovation District, the future home of HCC's Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence. (Thumbnail) Cubit building, future home of HCC's Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence.