There must be big money and politics at play behind UConn’s downtown move.
Or as they say at the Legislative Office Building – “You can smell a rat with this one.”
On Wednesday the Hartford Business Journal wrote, “The University of Connecticut’s relocation of its West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford has hit a stumbling block as the office building the school is targeting for relocation in Constitution Plaza has several issues including asbestos and space constraints…”
On Thursday the Hartford Business Journal wrote, “The University of Connecticut Thursday morning put a request for proposals seeking 150,000 square feet of office space from landlords in downtown Hartford, as the state’s flagship university looks to relocate its West Hartford campus to the Capital City.
According to the Hartford Business Journal, “UConn officials say moving into the Travelers Education Center is still not out of the question, but the school is now trying to broaden its search to it determine its options.”
However, the far more relevant question is who is pushing the entire project. Why the secrecy, the speed and the decision to walk away from millions in taxpayer funds that have already been spent on the West Hartford Campus.
On December 3rd, 2012, Wait, What? readers had a chance to learn about the issue from a post entitled, “Corporate Welfare Boondoggle Alert: Moving UConn’s West Hartford Campus downtown.”
In that post I wrote that in early November, UConn President Susan Herbst issued a statement announcing that the University of Connecticut’s Greater Hartford Campus would be moving from its West Hartford location to downtown Hartford within the year.
For starters, it was bizarre that such a significant announcement would be done by press release, and considering Governor Malloy’s approach to public relations, it was strange that he wasn’t mentioned, especially considering he is, by law, the President of the UConn Board of Trustees.
Instead UConn President Herbst rationalized the move by saying, “An estimated $18.4 million would be required to bring the buildings [at the West Hartford Campus] 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.”
What UConn’s President failed to make clear is that $25 million in UConn 21st Century bond funds were allocated to the University in 2005 to renovate the West Hartford campus and UConn has already spent millions of dollars of that money on West Hartford campus renovations, especially over the last few years. Some of those renovations 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)
Furthermore, less than ten years ago, UConn spent millions for a university wide master plan including one for the West Hartford Campus. It was that plan that led to the renovations that have already taken place.
Are more renovations needed? Perhaps.
Does it make more sense to move UConn’s West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford and walk away from all the work that was done? Probably not.
No matter what, policymakers, students and taxpayers deserve to know a whole lot more about what is really pushing this plan forward.
Perhaps the most telling point of all can be found in the Business Journal’s recent article where it reports, “UConn also said Thursday that it did not intend to make its move to downtown Hartford public until it had located its new location picked out, but the move was leaked by the media.”
The state’s public research university is saying that it had NO INTENTION of alerting the public that it was moving its major Hartford regional campus until the new location was picked out?
It is time for a legislative investigation of this one.
You can read the first Wait, What post on this here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/12/03/corporate-welfare-boondoggle-alert-moving-uconns-west-hartford-campus-downtown/
And the latest two Hartford Business Journal articles here: http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130123/NEWS01/130129940 and http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130124/NEWS01/130129909