The administration may believe it’s a good idea to move the University of Connecticut’s West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford, but students offered mixed feelings about the decision.
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Asked last week what he thought about the move, Kevin Leigh, a UConn student, said he had just gotten accustomed to the West Hartford campus as a first-semester pre-pharmacy major. Meaning once the campus is situated downtown, he’ll have to take time to readjust all over again. The suburban campus also has its perks, he said.
“I’d probably rather be here,” Leigh said as he sat in a room of the campus’ undergraduate building awaiting the start of a class last week. “Here, the traffic is better. It’s a shorter drive for me, too. You can just walk around campus if you’re bored or something. It’s nice around here.”
Second-year biological science major Jenny Le fears what the new building may look like. She hopes the new downtown campus has a similar layout to the current one.
“I do like how the place is separate buildings,” she said. She said she heard rumors that the new campus, which the university hopes to see completed in a year, is going to be in one large building. If the more than 2,100 West Hartford students and 60 full-time faculty were based in a single unit, she said she’d be “claustrophobic.”
It’s unclear what the new building or buildings will look like, but University of Connecticut spokesman Tom Breen said he “doesn’t envision [the new campus] starting from scratch.”
Negotiations are still underway for the location, but some have speculated it would need to be close to the UConn graduate business program on Constitution Plaza. The former Travelers Education Center on Constitution Plaza, Connecticut River Plaza, and One Talcott Plaza were reported by the Hartford Courant as possible locations.
During an interview on WNPR last month, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said that the university hired the same master planner and chief university architect that Yale hired for its campus in 2005.
The architect, Laura A. Cruickshank, was selected following a national search and will begin in February, Breen confirmed. An email to the students from the university said Cruickshank will be in charge of “ensuring that our campuses are coherent, attractive, and useful spaces that enhance our strategic intellectual endeavors and meet our highest academic ideals.”
Wherever the campus ends up, West Hartford Campus Director Michael Mernard thinks the change will be good. It’ll give students a chance to become “integrated into the fabric of Hartford’s society,” as students will be engulfed in Hartford history and culture.
Shameesha Lewis, an allied health major at UConn, said it will be “awesome” to see the university integrate what Herbst called “underutilized cultural aspects” and resources of downtown Hartford into the curriculum. Herbst used the once-suburban Capital Community College as an example and said CCC’s move to downtown has been successful. Lewis said she would like to do some school-sanctioned field work at one of Hartford’s hospitals, just like Capital students.
Jeffrey Partridge, Capital Community College humanities chair of the Capital Heritage Project, helps to design courses that “will connect their students with the heritage of Hartford.” During an WNPR interview, Partridge said the links between the curriculum and the downtown buildings are called “learning communities.”
Capital Community College moved from Woodland Street in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood to the former G. Fox Department Store in downtown Hartford back in 2002. The new campus included a $70 million top-to-bottom renovation of 300,000 square feet of space in the former retail building.
Danny Rosario, a junior at Capital Community College, experienced this type of, “infused learning.” In his Caribbean art class, Rosario said he and his fellow classmates had the opportunity to earn extra credit by listening to lectures held by his professor at the Wadsworth Atheneum. He said that the city definitely has “more resources” than the suburbs. And yes, there is some traffic, but it doesn’t kill Rosario’s motivation.
“Traffic — when you’re trying to better yourself — that isn’t an issue,” he said.
The move, according to University of Connecticut officials, will save the school almost $25 million in repairs needed at the West Hartford campus. That’s on top of the $7.2 million the university already has spent on renovations to the West Hartford campus over the last four years.
The decision to move the campus was made by UConn’s administration. The Board of Trustees has not voted on the move, but will have to approve the purchase of new property downtown, according to university officials.