Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration wants to move state government’s data center and supporting offices out of their East Hartford home and onto the Newington campus of a state psychiatric hospital slated for closure.

Though the administration largely has been silent about its search for a new home for the Department of Information Technology, Rell’s chief budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, confirmed this week it’s trying to move the agency onto Cedarcrest Hospital’s Newington campus.

But that hinges first on the administration successfully closing the 103-bed psychiatric unit, a plan that has drawn opposition from some legislators and from Connecticut’s largest health care workers’ union since it was announced in late May 2009. Cedarcrest Hospital also has a 42-bed, Blue Hills Substance Abuse unit on its Hartford campus, which is not targeted for closure.

“There’s really not much question that this is the most cost-effective thing to do,” Rell’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert L. Genuario, said Thursday. “Moving to state-owned space on state property would be much cheaper than the lease we have now.”

DOIT offices

Data center in East Hartford: Moving on? (Keith Phaneuf)

The governor asked legislators in February to authorize $21 million in bonding to begin development of a new data center to replace the 14,000 square feet which state government has leased at 101 East River Drive in East Hartford since January 2002.

Connecticut spent $12 million to develop the site, which also houses offices for about 300 department employees.

But over the past seven years, data processing demands have grown dramatically. Administration officials estimate an extra 10,000 square feet is needed to house more servers and other hardware. If the state were to lease more space on East River Drive, it would have to invest another $6 million to improve the electrical and cooling systems there, according to an OPM analysis.

Genuario’s office estimates that over the next 20 years, state government would spend more than $207 million on lease costs and building improvements in East Hartford.

By comparison, the cost of financing construction of a new building on the Newington campus to house the data center, and renovation of an existing structure to house department offices, is estimated at $139.2 million.

Genuario added that if the initial bonding request is granted, the administration hopes to have a new data center constructed and operating in Newington within two years, and office renovations there completed within five years.

But Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, said Wednesday he was convinced the closure of the Newington campus was a mistake even before he learned the governor wants to move 300 state jobs out of his home town.

“This is a half-baked idea,” LeBeau said. “We made tremendous investments in that building on East River Drive. And I still don’t believe they’ve made adequate provisions to ensure the people at Cedarcrest will be adequately taken care of.”

Both LeBeau and District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union have challenged Rell’s plan to move about half of the patients in Newington to Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, and the rest into various community-based programs.

The governor is seeking $5.9 million next fiscal year for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to place about 40 Cedarcrest patients in community programs.

Rell cited growing state budget deficits last May when she unveiled her intentions to close the Newington campus as part of a revised budget proposal for this fiscal year and next.

But District 1199 spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff, whose union represents more than 325 Cedarcrest workers, said the administration is allowing non-health care needs to drive decisions about patient treatment.

“The services that are delivered there are desperately needed by the citizens of Connecticut, and closing the campus doesn’t make those needs go away,” said Chernoff, who also questioned whether 40 patient cases would be suitable for transfers into community treatment. “Of course the goal is always to return patients to the community at some point. But there are some patients for whom an institutional setting is the best situation, at least for a while.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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