Moving the Greater Hartford campus to downtown a big win for city
Hartford Courant Editorial
November 08, 2012
It's sometimes said the key to reviving older cities lies with "eds and meds," educational and medical institutions. Downtown Hartford just got a call from Mr. Ed.
University of Connecticut officials announced Thursday that they are planning to move the school's Greater Hartford campus from West Hartford to downtown Hartford in the next 12 to 18 months. This is tremendous news, on several levels.
"Moving the Greater Hartford campus back to the city, where it began and belongs, will better enable the campus to fulfill its academic mission, provide a major boost for downtown Hartford and save the university millions in the process," said UConn President Susan Herbst.
Why It Makes Sense
The university had a campus in Hartford, at various locations, from 1939 to 1970, before moving to the 58-acre site in West Hartford, now home to 60 full-time faculty and 2,100 full- and part-time students. All will move to an existing downtown location, as yet unidentified. A letter from the trustees to key legislators suggests the School of Social Work will move to a separate downtown building close to the rest of the operation.
The move makes financial sense for UConn. A recent review found that it would cost nearly $25 million to bring the aging West Hartford campus to good repair. The university has had to spend $7.2 million in the past four years for basic repairs such as the roof on the undergraduate building, which at its worst barely interrupted the falling rain.
The downtown move also offers better educational opportunities. Along with the social work school, the West Hartford campus is home to the Urban and Community Studies, Urban Semester and Master of Public Administration programs, all of which benefit from interaction with the city. Indeed, the MPA students often serve internships at city or state agencies or nonprofits in Hartford. Other departments such as the School of Education and the Nonprofit Leadership Program also can benefit from a Hartford campus.
What is good for the students is also good for the city. The move will add vitality, feet on the street, customers for coffee houses and restaurants, new downtown residents. In the past decade, the addition of Capital Community College, UConn's graduate business program and the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy have all brought life to downtown; the coming UConn move should bring the academic presence to a new and exciting level.
We'd have liked to see the UConn medical and dental schools downtown as well, but the Greater Hartford campus may be a bigger prize.
Work On Transportation
Mayor Pedro Segarra praised Ms. Herbst for her vision and said the city "stands ready to welcome UConn with open arms and assist in as many ways as we can." One thing he should focus on is transportation. The Hartford-New Britain busway will help, as will the commuter rail project to follow, but Mr. Segarra, working with the state Department of Transportation, should find more ways — from bike paths to bus rapid transit on the HOV lanes, to get people in and out of the city. That's also key to getting more employers downtown.
What will become of the West Hartford campus? The tentative plan is to sell it. That's fine, but town officials should find a way to retain at least a portion of it for recreational space, including an extension of the planned Trout Brook bike/pedestrian path. The campus buildings, in particular the three large structures on the campus, are tired, dull-looking boxes that are not likely to incite a historic preservation drive.
All in all, a most promising turn of events for downtown Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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