Corporate Welfare Boondoggle Alert: Moving UConn’s West Hartford Campus downtown

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On November 8, two days after this year’s election, UConn President Susan Herbst released a statement announcing that the University of Connecticut’s Greater Hartford Campus will be moving from its West Hartford location to downtown Hartford within the year.

Beyond a claim that “this will be a win-win for UConn, our students and the City of Hartford,” UConn’s President failed to provide any details whatsoever, citing the need for secrecy since negotiations on the issue where on-going.

As the Associated Press put it, “UConn said it’s not ready to identify possible Hartford sites that would house the new campus.”  The only other fact that came to light was that the 58 acre West Hartford campus would be sold after the move.

Stepping back for a moment it becomes apparent that nothing about this development or the statement makes sense.

In fact, it is so devoid of logic that it begs the question, what is really going on behind the scenes with UConn’s West Hartford Campus?

First off, these types of announcements are never made by press release.  UConn moving into downtown Hartford is the type of announcement that this Governor (or any governor) would be part of.  Particularly since under Connecticut law, the Governor serves as the President of the UConn Board of Trustees.

Second, as a public entity, a move like this would require a transparent process (or at least that is what the law requires).

Instead, the AP reports that, “the move would cost about $125,000, but UConn says it would save about $25 million in a few years. It also intends to sell the 58-acre West Hartford campus, which includes five buildings.”

$125,000 to move the entire campus downtown?

Perhaps the biggest clue that things are not what they seem is that UConn’s President felt the need to skip over large segments of the truth when making the announcement in the first place.

According to UConn President Herbst, “An estimated $18.4 million would be required to bring the buildings to an acceptable state.  Furthermore, updates and repairs needed to be made to the technology infrastructure, the mechanical systems in the three main campus buildings need to be completely replaced.  Combined, nearly $25 million would be needed to keep the campus operational, in addition to the $7.2 million spent on continual repairs to the campus over the past four years.”

Yes, in fact UConn has spent a good deal of money to upgrade and renovate the West Hartford Campus in recent years.  Projects Include;

  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Electrical Switchgear Replacement: $1 million (2012)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Student Lounge $839,000 (2011)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – 1800 Asylum Boiler Replacement:  $850,000 (2011)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements-Chemistry Lab $1.5 million: (2010)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Phase I $1.4 million: (2010)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Trecker Library Repairs $525,000 (2010)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Social Work Building $1 million (2009)
  • West Hartford Campus Renovations/Improvements – Parking Lot: $850,000 (2005)

And it wasn’t as if this money was spent without proper planning and consideration.

In 2004, the University of Connecticut spent millions for a Master Plan for the Storrs Campus and the regional campus.  In fact, a whole separate Greater Hartford Campus Master Plan was developed and published.

The document, based on the University’s academic plan identified that UConn needed to renovate and expand, in order to generate an additional 30,140 ASF of space by 2013.  The plan outlined the steps necessary to increase the amount of academic space by 21%, adding classrooms, labs, research space and other departmental spaces.  In addition, Academic Support Space would be increase of 41% for the library, community center and the physical plant facilities.

The next year, in 2005, when UConn went to the General Assembly for the second part of UConn 2000, called UConn 21st Century; it provided a list of $1.3 billion worth of construction for both the University and the UConn Health Center.

And in 2006, UConn’s new construction plan included spending $9.5 million on the West Hartford Campus in FY10, 10 million in FY 12 and 4 million in FY14.

Then, within a year, those funds disappeared as UConn’s administration decided that they’d rather use the money to build or renovate in Storrs.

In the end, only about $7 million was left and spent for improvements to the West Hartford Campus.

So call it more than a bit disingenuous for UConn’s President Herbst to claim that they need to move downtown because it would cost $25 million to fix up the West Hartford Campus.  UConn knew that, they had the money and plans to make those renovations as late as 2006, and for reasons Herbst doesn’t explain, they chose to shift the money.

Even more peculiar is the suggestion that it would only cost $125,000 to move the campus downtown.

Obviously, it would cost millions to lease and fit out an existing building.

Something big is afoot, and whatever it is, it can’t handle the light of transparency or UConn and the Malloy Administration would be doing it in the open.

As the Hartford Courant noted, “Three locations have emerged as leading contenders for the new campus: the former Travelers Education Center on Constitution Plaza; the two-towered Connecticut River Plaza; and One Talcott Plaza on Talcott Street. All three locations are within a block of a UConn graduate business program.

The vacant Traveler’s Education Center encompasses 135,000 square feet and has been for sale or lease for about a year. The building is outfitted with classrooms and meeting space.

The 575,000-square-foot Connecticut River Plaza on nearby Columbus Boulevard has been under consideration by the state as a leading location to consolidate state workers in other leased office space, according to real estate sources.

The smaller, 103,000-square-foot building on Talcott Street near the G. Fox Building has long been vacant.”

So perhaps it is all part of a corporate welfare deal to fill up some private developer’s empty building?

Of course, getting the West Hartford Branch off of a prime piece of property on Asylum Avenue has its advantages as well.

Regardless of who “wins” the one thing we can be sure of is that UConn’s students and Connecticut’s taxpayers will be the losers.

UConn has put more than $7 million into its West Hartford Campus and is now walking away from those improvements, and its own plan.

And just as incredible, UConn, with no feasibility study, no academic plan and no money is going to lease space and move downtown?

As the saying goes, “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

UConn and the Malloy Administration are engaged in a major ruse and it deserves more coverage than the reporting it has gotten to date.  There was a reason they dropped the media statement during election week.  It was to limit coverage and that is exactly what has happened.

For what substantive coverage there was, see the Hartford Courant’s article November 8, 2012:  http://articles.courant.com/2012-11-08/news/hc-uconn-moves-to-hartford-20121108_1_west-hartford-campus-uconn-plans-new-campus and here is the Ch. 8 version http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/hartford_cty/uconn-to-quit-west-hartford-for-move-to-hartford#.ULzlCIPXZrU

And here a link to UConn’s West Hartford Campus Master plan: http://www.masterplan.uconn.edu/hartford.html

  • Charlie Puffers

    Good point Jon. Something must be up. It really doesn’t make any sense. UConn already owns those buildings plus a huge parking lot across Trout Brook from the campus. There is no parking in downtown Hartford during the day and they will have to buy or rent someplace for the school and where will the students park? It’s not like public transportation is convenient for a student who is working and going to school.

  • msavage

    Jon,

    I’ve been meaning to ask about this since I first read the article about the move. There’s just so much corruption to keep track of, I lost track of this particular fiasco. This has taxpayer rape and pillage written all over it. This has become a free-for-all. There’s just too much to keep track of. I mean, the second I read the headline my skin began to crawl. Lately, it actually makes my skin crawl to even enter the UConn campus anymore. It just reeks of corruption and waste, in my opinion.

  • msavage

    Look, it’s become clear that there is a free-for-all going on. There has been a funneling of money from the majority of society to the top 1% for decades. In the past couple of years this has accelerated exponentially. Clearly Gov. Malloy is taking this to an even higher level. He appears to be hellbent on funneling as much money away from the average CT taxpayer as possible to further line the nests of various already cash-flush cronies. Very soon, we will all be engaged in preparing our taxes once again. The thought of paying a single dime more in state income taxes so that this incompetent and/or crooked politician can hand it over to sociopaths makes me want to vomit. What can we do? What if hundreds of thousands of Conn. taxpayers simply refuse to pay our state taxes until the federal gov’t. pays some attention to the shit that is going down here? There has got to be a way to combat this. People will say there isn’t a way–but there is ALWAYS a way. If you’re persistent enough and know when to shut down the naysayers, there’s always a way.

    • jonpelto

      Msavage – I could not have said it better myself. Like in the movie – justice for all – I feel like we’re yelling – “there is something really wrong going on here” – as we’re being dragged out of the courtroom. !!!!!! Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • msavage

        There is power in numbers. That is the only hope we have–to come together as a group and fight back. They can’t drag a huge, unruly mob out of the courtroom. Or a huge, loud, law-abiding mob. :)

      • Suesylvester

        “there is something really wrong going on here” – as we’re being dragged out of the courtroom” literally …been in any courtrooms lately?

  • sharewhut

    West Hartford campus will be sold to a Charter School company for pennies on the dollar, State will lease parts of property not used by charter at an inflated rate (and take responsibility for maintenance etc) and turn it over to another charter to run some sort of extension or adult ed program….

    • jonpelto

      Hey that was my idea!
      Okay so we can both be right,
      Welcome to the new achievement first – hartford high

      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • sharewhut

        They’ll use ‘West Hartford High’. Name is available and will give the illusion that it’s a publicly run school. Remember the people we’re talking about- obscure the reality.

        • Suesylvester

          That makes sense…the rage is “re branding” and the belief re branding is “change the name” it is a common business practice aka bait and switch.

    • Linda174

      Yes, you are correct..the campus will go to a charter sweatshop chain with previous connections to Pryor..that’s why he needs the Chief closing and privatizing Officer (CCPO)….the one he borrowed from Bloomberg. They are almost done planning the coup as we speak. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-White/100000066062155 Rich White

    I love the plan if they take the larger building and consolidate all state offices and sell all the state occupied buildings in the Capital and Bushnell Park Region to condo and apartment developers.
    Perhaps make use of modern cube and mobile office technology and make the classrooms state administrative cubes during the day and classrooms at night.

  • http://twitter.com/jpmccu Jim McCusker

    The thing is, UConn needs to be in Hartford. No not just part of it, the whole thing. That our biggest public university doesn’t have its campus in a town that desperately needs new blood, and that that campus has major problems retaining graduates in-state after graduation tells us this. Hartford needs UConn more than Storrs does, and UConn needs to shed its Ag-school roots to really serve the state effectively. Moving UConn to Hartford would turn Hartford into a college town that people will want to stay in, and UConn would get the benefit of the business that would stay in Hartford because their founder’s roots are there.

  • jennyct

    Now that we really know where the school is going, it makes even less sense. 125 million for a property half the size. Wow. Just. Wow.