UConn officials plan for future changes in Storrs, Hartford

Storrs -- The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees took several steps Wednesday to prepare its main campus and its Hartford area branch for the future.

During its regular meeting, the oversight panel:

  • Approved a preliminary evaluation that’s the first step toward meeting the water supply needs at the main Storrs campus for the next 50 years;
  • Approved a $1 million, pre-development review of the proposed relocation of the West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford; And,
  • Got its first look at an administration proposal to develop a new, multipurpose recreation center in Storrs.

Changes on the main campus

“This is our future right here, our next 50 years,” trustee Thomas Ritter said of the decision to pursue a deal with the Connecticut Water Co. to pipe water from Shenipisit Lake in Tolland, which lies about 5 miles to the north.

If the environmental impact evaluation uncovers no major obstacles, and necessary permits are obtained promptly, work on a $21 million pipeline could begin one year from now, Associate Vice President Thomas Callahan told the trustees.

Water could be piped to the campus in as soon as 18 months from now, though Callahan added that the expansion also could be phased in over three years or longer, depending upon how quickly the Storrs campus’ water needs build.

Former Windham First Selectwoman Jean de Smet, a 1979 UConn graduate, urged the board to abandon the water expansion plan, arguing “there is no environmentally sound way to bring water to UConn.”

University officials should instead look to shift programs and students to other parts of the state where the existing water infrastructure can handle the demand, she said.

Callahan added that the university already has a “very aggressive” conservation program in place that has cut water consumption in Storrs by 250,000 gallons per day since 2005. And that’s despite population growth on the main campus of more than 2,000 people over the last eight years.

A second proposal that could reshape the Storrs campus came from President Susan Herbst’s administration, which asked trustees Wednesday to consider developing a new recreation center.

After studying rec centers at universities in several states, administration officials envision a facility that would feature:

  • A weights and fitness area;
  • A large-scale gymnasium with three to five basketball courts and possibly an elevated track;
  • A swimming pool;
  • Several multi-purpose rooms to accommodate the more than 1,200 UConn students involved in club sports; 
  • Other activity courts for sports like field hockey and indoor soccer.

Cynthia Costanzo, UConn’s executive director of recreational services, assured the trustees that UConn students would be an integral role in planning any center, if the board should approve one. “This will be their building,” she said, adding that rec centers “are quickly becoming an integral component of college life.”

Herbst’s staff said that a 203,000-square-foot center would be preferred, but they also outlined an option for 160,000 square feet.

The larger facility was estimated to come with a $101 million construction price tag, and would cost $10.1 million annually to operate. The projected rise in yearly activity fees was $488 for undergraduates and $361 for graduate students, faculty and other staff. 

The smaller option was priced at $83.2 million to construct with an annual operating cost of $8.5 million. Projected fee hikes included $412 per year for undergraduates, and $305 for undergraduates, faculty and other staff.

Herbst asked trustees Wednesday only to consider the proposal, asking that the project be revisited some time before October.

Closing in on a new campus site in Hartford

Also Wednesday, the trustees approved $1 million for legal and engineering analysis of a proposal to move the West Hartford campus to the site of the former Hartford Times building in downtown Hartford just west of the Connecticut River.

The trustees have been evaluating a proposal for that site offered by H.B. Nitkin Group, a Greenwich real estate development and management firm.

While the trustees unanimously endorsed the $1 million expenditure, they agreed to hold off launching the analysis until after university and Hartford city officials meet next week.

Mayor Pedro Segarra and City Council President Shawn Wooden sent university officials a letter last month saying that a regional campus based former Hartford Times building might not complement the long-term economic interests of the city.

Hartford leaders expressed concern that a campus there might divide, rather than enhance, a growing entertainment district in the Front Street area.

“We think that we’ll get past any tensions,” Herbst said afterward. “We so want to move into the city of Hartford. … We really want to enliven the city.”

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