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The New Campus

The New Campus 1966 - 1977


With enrollment increasing, it became apparent that the College would need to consider other options to house its operations. Discussion began on relocating the college to the site of the old city infirmary. The city infirmary sat on sixty acres of land on the far western end of Pittsfield. Here was plenty of room to erect buildings and the much needed parking lots. In 1962 an advisory board was formed and discussions began in earnest. Cost was an important issue, and the cost for the new campus was going to be much higher than the renovations of the junior high.

On a cold day in February, 1966 the advisory group, the Campus Planning Committee, officially toured the infirmary site. Tentative plans were made at that time to work with architects and a schedule was drawn up. With the passage by Congress of the Educational Facilities Bill in December 1961, up to 40% of the cost of the new campus could be covered by funding from the federal government.

BCC continued to grow in population and esteem. Faculty and programs were added, and notable visiting scholars were invited to give presentations and lectures, including Max Lerner, Dr. Harlow Shapely, and John Ciardi. Classes were held throughout the year, including during the summer. The College regularly invited notable visitors who attracted students and the public alike, to speak on campus. In January, 1965, Dr. O'Connell's article, "After High School - The Role of the Community College" appeared in the New Republic. In 1968, Dr. O'Connell's book, Community Colleges: A Presidents View, was published by the University of Illinois Press.

Meanwhile, an architectural firm was making waves in both Williamstown and Bennington. Benjamin Thompson, chairman of the department of architecture at Harvard, and partner in TAC, the Architects Collaborative, was busy working on projects including the Greylock Quadrangle complex for Williams College and a regional high school for Bennington, VT. Awarded high honors for their work on Phillips Academy by the American Institute of Architects, TAC was making a name for itself in institutional architecture for educational organizations.

Benjamin Thompson was eventually chosen as the architect of the new BCC campus on West Street by the Campus Planning Committee. The ground breaking for the new campus occurred in June, 1969, and was attended by numerous leaders from government and education, including John Lederle, the President of the University of Massachusetts. Throughout 1970 and 1971 work continued on the new campus. In 1970 President O'Connell was awarded an honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, from Williams College.

The new campus was completed in 1972. The Koussevitzky Arts Center was one of the last buildings to be completed. President O'Connell, who once turned down an opportunity to attend Yale Repertory Theater, enjoyed cameo roles in productions in the new Koussevitzky theater. Under the direction of Bob Boland, the theater program thrived. Dr. O'Connell, a thespian himself, performed in a number of productions, including The Student Prince. In 1974, Dr. O'Connell was awarded a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. His dissertation was entitled, The Five Roles of the College or University President.

In 1973, Dr. O'Connell was given the Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom. Dr. O'Connell had been the only President of a state College to publicly support college faculty and staff during the Massachusetts loyalty oath controversy.

After seventeen years of leadership that saw the founding of this college, its accreditation, growth and move to a new campus, Dr. O'Connell left his position as President of BCC in June of 1977. He was honored by the Board Of Massachusetts Regional Colleges and by the State. He was named President of Bellevue College in Seattle, Washington, a position he held for five years, remaining at that college after to serve as the Chair of Foreign Languages until his retirement in 1988.

Teaching was always important to Dr. O'Connell, so much so that he stressed it as a prerequisite skill for anyone seeking a position as a college president. Throughout his presidency at BCC he taught literature courses and an introductory course in the humanities and sciences entitled, "The President's Hour". He also published "Presidential Chats" in the school newspaper, Rag Times. Dr. O'Connell celebrated his faculty also, emphasizing the need for college presidents to attract excellent teachers to their institutions. Dr. O'Connell wrote:

"If I were advising a community college board on selection of a new president, I would ask each one to put himself in the position of a perceptive, eager teacher with lots of choices as to where he could teach. Is this prospective president the man you'd choose to teach for? Never mind, for the moment, his knowledge of the nuts and bolts of education. Never mind the responsibleness or judiciousness his demeanor suggests. Will he attract a crack faculty? That's the first question, and incomparably the most important one. All other criteria for choosing the president should follow this one". (1)

Berkshire Community College is pleased to retain many of Dr. O'Connell's writing, including letters, class notes, speeches, books, articles and taped lectures. Included here is an archival scrapbook, A Pictorial History of the Early Days of Berkshire Community College. The archive also contains selected yearbooks from the early days of the College. On June 1, 2007 the students, faculty, administration and staff welcomed Dr. O'Connell back to our campus and the Berkshires for the dedication of his collection in the archives of the Jonathan Edwards Library. At the annual BCC graduation at Tanglewood, Dr. O'Connell was invited to deliver the commencement address.


O'Connell, Thomas E. Community Colleges: A Presidents View. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1968.

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