Capital Community College Friday got a long-awaited go-ahead to expand, and $5.5 million to do so — a welcome development for a school that's taken to holding classes in conference rooms in its crowded downtown building.
"Oh, we've been waiting for this a long time," said Lester Primus, Capital's dean of administration. "Everybody's so happy we can stretch a little now."
The funds, which the State Bond Commission approved Friday, will allow the college to expand into two floors of a building adjacent to its Main Street headquarters in the old G. Fox department store in Hartford.
The state has been leasing those two floors for about $800,000 a year since 2002, but they remained vacant. The college has sought to expand for nearly as long, but moving the college there required an amendment to the state's lease, which took lengthy negotiations to secure. In the meantime, the college's enrollment has grown by 25 percent.
"We're desperate for expansion," community college system Chancellor Marc S. Herzog said.
The $5.5 million approved Friday will cover the cost of designing and outfitting the 40,000-square-foot space, allowing the college to expand its radiology program and build new classrooms, including large ones needed for the school's nursing program. It will also provide funding for additonal computer labs, lecture halls, and office space.
The space is currently unfinished, with little more than exterior walls, a heating system, and the supply lines for plumbing, Herzog said.
The college moved to the old G. Fox building in 2002 as part of then-Gov. John G. Rowland's "Six Pillars" of development for downtown Hartford. The state and a partnership led by developer Anthony D. Autorino purchased the building together in 2000; Autorino's partnership paid roughly $2.5 million for 60 percent of the building, while the state paid roughly $1.7 million for the college's portion.
In 2002, the state began leasing two floors from Autorino's company, Hartford Downtown Revival LLC, intending to use them for the state Department of Banking. But the department never moved in.
Capital, meanwhile, quickly outgrew its space in the building. The move downtown consolidated programs from two campuses, and while initial plans called for the college to maintain a 33,000-square-foot space at its Flatbush Avenue location, the college ultimately ceded the space to Prince Technical High School, Herzog said.
Enrollment growth has also stretched the college's capacity; it now enrolls more than 7,000 credit and non-credit students.
Because the two floors were leased as office space, any plans to expand the college there required a change to the lease. The state and Autorino's company finally reached an agreement last June, allowing the college to expand and giving the state the option to purchase the space beginning in 2010.
The expansion will help ease the crowding in the college's space, which also houses the Capital Preparatory Magnet School. The space crunch is particularly acute between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., a popular time for classes. "We don't turn students away, but yet at the same time, we can't pack them into classrooms," Primus said. "They have to take classes that may be less convenient to their schedules."
The new space will allow the college to schedule more classes during that time period, something that can be particularly important for the many Capital students who juggle college with a job or family commitments.
Primus said he hopes the new space will be up and running as early as December.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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