June 1st, 2012

MSPP readies for new Newton campus

Over the past decade, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology has seen its student body quadruple, the number of degree programs expand from one to 11 and its operating budget go from $2.2 million to $20 million.

So why is the graduate school’s president embarrassed to meet dignitaries at the front door?

“It’s like bringing your future in-laws to your walk-up apartment in the Bronx,” says Nicholas Covino, Psy.D., MSPP’s president since 2002. “It’s too small and does not reflect the dignity of the work that happens here.”

That situation will change in August when MSPP moves into a new home. In April, the school signed a lease with an option to purchase a six-story, 83,000 square foot office building at 1 Wells Ave., Newton. A $7 million renovation is converting the space into a professional and modern learning environment.

The move will consolidate into one building MSPP’s three sites: two in West Roxbury, its classroom building at 221 Rivermoor St. and three large suites at 208 VFW Parkway housing the school’s financial aid office, registrar and distance learning program; and the MSPP Freedman Center on Child and Family Development at 225 Nevada St., Newton.

Plans for the new building call for a mix of flexible spaces including a dramatic, light-filled, two-story entrance, 16 classrooms, 17 meeting rooms, faculty work spaces and administrative offices. MSPP will initially occupy the first four floors with plans to phase in taking over the top two floors, Covino says.

“This is a school that has a lot of one on one conversation,” says project architect Todd Dundon, of Gensler. “We tried to balance the structured learning spaces with unstructured, happenstance, run-into-someone type of spaces.”

Gensler’s design team held focus groups with administrators, students, staff and board members to develop a vision of what the new school should look like. The groups met separately, but Dundon says upper level administrators put together a wish list for what they wanted to see similar to views expressed by faculty, staff and students. All wanted to have a sense of community and a mix of functional, flexible and technology-rich spaces, more open and airy work environments and access to natural light.

“They did say the same things. We kind of hope that would be the case and sometimes that’s not always the case. In this case, the school leadership walks the talk.” Dundon adds.

The new building is a “perfect square” office building with nine-foot windows all around, Dundon says. “You can never be more than 45 feet away from a window.”

Administrative staff and faculty have grown from 42 when Covino became president to 137. MSPP offers doctoral degrees in clinical, school and leadership psychology and master’s degrees in forensic, school, counseling and organizational psychology, community mental health, executive coaching and higher education student personnel administration.

“My expectation for the institution is that it will continue to grow in complexity over the next several years,” Covino says.

By Janine Weisman

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