By Sophia Harris
The University Community Club, recently established on June 5 at the Warren Center, offers a wide range of amenities for its members, including watersport rentals, fitness classes, and social events.
The Warren Conference Center and Inn, located five-and-a-half miles away from Framingham State University's campus, sits on over 100 acres of land in Ashland, according to the Warren Center website.
The Warren Center features a hotel with 50 rooms, conference centers, and a newly added membership club now called the University Community Club (UCC).
The UCC is a membership opportunity for faculty, staff, alumni, students, and residents of Ashland.
The membership costs $125 a year and provides access to kayaks and paddle boards to enjoy the reservoir on the property, pickleball and tennis courts, fitness classes, and social events.
Joseph Magnani, UCC’s operation manager, said, “As of now, it's just one membership. However, we are planning on expanding that - to what degree, I'm not sure yet.”
The goal of the UCC is to build connections between the Framingham State community and the Warren Center and all that it offers.
Magnani said another goal is “to provide access to social and cultural opportunities for the Framingham State community and local residents.”
According to Dale Hamel, executive vice president, the UCC has sold approximately 178 memberships, but with family members able to share a plan, there are over 400 members of the UCC.
“In total, we have well over 400 people that are part of families that have a membership with the UCC. That's actually higher than what we had anticipated for the first kickoff year of this,” Hamel said.
Magnani said the UCC is “a collaborative effort to bring together former FSU alumni, the community at large here in Ashland, and some surrounding towns as well to the Warren Center to try to be able to do a bunch of classes, events, activities, and stuff like that.”
He said, “So we really hope to capture the local community, the alumni, faculty, and staff. I would love to see the faculty and staff over here.”
Magnani said along with access to the tennis, pickleball, and disc golf courses the Warren Center offers, the UCC provides lessons for these sports.
A UCC membership also grants access to yoga, fitness, and tai chi classes.
The Warren Center hosts social and cultural events for members such as the Autumn Harvest Wine Dinner that was held in November.
“The Autumn Harvest Wine Dinner was super cool. There was a four-course meal that was paired with different wines. The pairings were explained by the Wine Empire here in town,” Magnani said.
Magnani said the UCC is still in the early stages of development.
He added, “I don't even think we're close to scratching the surface of things that we could do here, so we're using year one as that real bumpy road, but let's see how we make it.”
He said the UCC is open to feedback from its members.
“If we hear something from a UCC Club member, we'll try it,” he said. “There are so many things we can do here.”
Magnani said, “This is such a baby itself right now - we're trying to really grow it. So we are doing our best to see things that we could have done better from year one - to go to year two.”
Hamel said in its first season of operation, the UCC “has largely focused on the recreational activities available to members.”
He said, “We've done a lot of work creating those opportunities - working with the Division of Conservation and Recreation to do a beach reclamation project. So now there's a beach there that is also utilized to launch the watercraft.”
Hamel added colder weather will begin to put the available indoor activities to the test.
He added one of the main focuses of the UCC program is to serve a wide range of club members of different ages.
He said the goal is to figure out programming that suits each member.
“To try to figure out the programming of a wide variety of constituents is going to be a little bit of trial and error. I'm sure we'll try some things that we won't probably repeat, but as part of those, we'll also find things that are attractive to members and continue to offer those,” Hamel said.
He agreed with Magnani, saying, “I think we'll have to collect a lot of data and see what is most of interest to our members.”
The Warren Center is financially self-sustaining, Hamel said.
He said the Warren Center is an enterprise fund, “which means it's not supported by the University. It does, in fact, support the University operations by subsidizing its use.
“If you want to have a conference out there, it's reduced cost and we subsidize it through the income of the operations that are occurring and then hopefully, continue to expand its support for the hospitality program as well,” Hamel said.
He added there have also been a number of capital projects that have been developing at the Warren Center.
He said the Warren Center was “fortunate” to receive American Rescue Plan Act water and sewer funding, which provided $500,000 for a project to renovate the sewer.
He said the Center has also received $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief funding, which were used for “two root projects as well as two generator projects.”
The funding will also address converting the Northern Lodge, which is currently a private guest room, into a clubhouse that will provide support for the conference center, inn, and the UCC, he said.
Hamel said the University is also building a new ballroom at the Warren Center, which received $4.1 million in funding from a “contract commitment'' with a program manager who is part of the Compass Group.
Hamel said, “We're very excited about what's happening out there, both in support of the University Community Club, but then the other activities that it supports for the University as
The Warren Conference Center and Inn also provide opportunities for Framingham State students to participate in internships and work-study programs, especially students in the hospitality major.
According to Hamel, there are also opportunities for biology majors to learn about water sample testing by using the reservoir located on the property.
John Umit Palabiyik, program manager of the hospitality and tourism management major, said the Warren Center is a great resource for students in the program to get work experience before being exposed to the job market.
Palabiyik said after students in the hospitality and tourism management major take two hospitality classes, they are required to participate in 200 hours of field experience before they continue their course load.
He said the Warren Center is one of the options for the field experience. This field experience is paid and it is counted as two course credits.
Palabiyik said students can work “at the front desk as a receptionist, and they can work in restaurants as a hostess or they can work different events, like wedding events.”
He said students can also work with the sales and marketing team. He added on rare occasions, students can “also work with the general manager to learn general management skills.”
He said there are currently two students completing their field experience at the Warren Center.
He said the program is still very new and they only opened the field experience opportunity at the Warren Center in 2019, taking into account the two years the Warren Center was not at full operation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now and in the future, we should be able to take more than what we can do now. However, there are students that are coming from industry to the program so they already have the field experience,” he said.
Palabiyik added, “We are not limited to the Warren Conference Center, but it's an option for them.”
He said a benefit for students who want to complete their field experience at the Warren Center other than its proximity to campus is that it is “very unique, which means it's a completely different segment of the hospitality [field] for many reasons. It's a small hotel. It's a boutique hotel.”
He added the center is also a “conference hotel” where corporations can host events, as well as a social venue. “It's very popular with weddings. It's a really hot spot for weddings.”
Palabiyik said the field experience opportunity at the Warren Center is a “really good option for the students. I highly recommend it for all my students if they want to stay in the hotel business.”
He said his vision for the major is “to see the whole program move into the Warren Conference Center” and for students to fully manage the center.
When students graduate from the hospitality and tourism management program, “they are taking charge and running this place. That's my vision,” he said.
Palabiyik added he would “love” to see Framingham State events taking place at the conference center.
He said, “We are not using it as much as we should.”
Taylor Johnson, a senior hospitality and tourism management major, said the “Warren Conference Center is a great place for someone to start their journey.”
She added because the center is so close to FSU, it provides students without vehicles a good resource to learn about the field.
Ingrid Barbosa, a sophomore sociology major, said she thinks the University Community Club is a good way to build community off campus.
Nicole Viera, a graduate student in English, said the University Community Club “sounds pretty nice, especially if it's going to let in people from Ashland and Framingham and faculty and students. I feel like that would probably be a good place for people to connect to their community and their University.”
Nicole Berry, a senior political science major, said she thinks the Warren Center “brings a lot to the community. I think there's a lot of room for it to grow, and it's kind of nice to see the University putting effort into increasing community.”