Before the state builds a $236 million hospital tower at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, it should evaluate the additional space that would be made available by moving the medical and dental schools to downtown Hartford. Such a move would make more space available at the health center for new hospital beds and expanded research.
Regardless of the validity of the arguments for more hospital beds at the health center, there is no doubt about the need for additional research space to attract additional National Institutes of Health grants: a key to raising UConn's medical school ranking from 56th in the nation.
The enhanced cooperation among local hospitals, which led to the General Assembly's approval of funds to expand the Farmington hospital, is welcome. However, these hospitals and the major outpatient facilities — such as the community health services on Albany Avenue and Grand Street — that can provide the major clinical and teaching patient base for students are a considerable distance from Farmington. A downtown campus flying UConn's flag would bring medical students closer to these facilities and a true urban medical experience. It would also provide a boost to the human and economic health and vitality of our capital.
Faculty and students might be concerned about moving the two schools to Hartford. The plan to move Capital Community College downtown was initially opposed some years ago, but the expansion to this more flexible facility and its central location has been successful.
There are two immediately evident Hartford locations for the medical and dental schools.
One is using an expanded lot 12B, just north of I-84 along the east side of Main Street between the old G. Fox building (now Capital Community College) and the re-constituted Barnard Brown School and property owned by the Rensselaer Graduate Center.
This spacious area would also provide for a fully developed UConn School of Public Health and for the UConn School of Social Work, now in deteriorating facilities in West Hartford. These schools are programmatically urban-oriented and would co-exist comfortably with the medical school.
This site would provide better parking, services such as a bookstore, restaurants and student-oriented retail services. Student housing, already available in the former Sage-Allen building, in nearby South Downtown, northern Frog Hollow and the Union Station area, would be a part of the new complex.
Logical additional participants in this medically oriented development are the Capital Community College School of Nursing and a long-hoped-for medical technology incubator center. The state Department of Public Health on nearby Capitol Avenue could offer public health internships.
The increased pedestrian traffic would create the sense of activity and safety for students and their families. These and changes being considered for I-84 would knit together the downtown and nearby neighborhoods. The energy could spill over to the west side of Main Street to the new public safety complex and even to the infamous Butt Ugly Building, stimulating additional economic development.
The second potential location is represented by the significant availability of quality, but empty, downtown office space. Just as the UConn School of Business has a logical presence in downtown Hartford, as does St. Joseph College's planned school of pharmacy, the medical and dental schools could flourish in the Bank of America building, the former United Healthcare towers overlooking the Connecticut River or the A1 Tech Center on the former WFSB site. Desirable downtown lease rates offer the option of reduced bonding, which UConn Health Center expansion would require.
It is exciting to contemplate the economic and social energy a significant university presence would add to the already enhanced Central Business District, or the potential effects of new educational, research and technical activities joining the Connecticut Science Center in promoting learning and technology.
Most important, I, as a medical professional, believe it is not the specific location that would provide the major rationale for this move. It is a more logical, holistic approach to the training of health professionals and building economic partnerships. Moving the medical and dental schools downtown would put the UConn Health Center on a sustainable, creative, flexible and economically sensible course for the future.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at