Published December 01. 2013 4:00AM
Local lawmakers who secured $15 million in the last legislative session for renovations at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton are now focusing on improving the math, science and engineering facilities there.
An Oct. 31 proposal, "Next Generation Avery Point: Expanding STEM Pathways," is the first among several the local delegation will be pushing in coming years, state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said.
UConn as a whole stands to get $1.6 billion over 10 years for Next Generation Connecticut, a program approved in the last session to expand and invest in science, technology, engineering, math, digital media and risk management education.
One of the program's key components is partnerships with engineering and manufacturing companies to enhance research and development at the university and to create a talented workforce for Connecticut companies. Last month, United Technologies Corp. pledged $10 million to create a UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering at UConn's Storrs campus.
Of the $15 million for Avery Point, $5 million is earmarked for renovating the academic building on campus, $5 million for renovating the community and professional building and $5 million for restoring the waterfront. In the academic building, which was built in the 1940s, electric cables and peeling floors are visible in the hallways. The renovation will upgrade the building's infrastructure, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and will increase the number of classrooms and make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But Avery Point, which is known for its marine sciences and oceanography programs, was not a major component of the overall 10-year, Next Generation proposal. Local legislators have continued to work with UConn administrators and local officials to promote further improvements at the Groton campus.
Now, Avery Point supporters are looking at a plan to double the size of the community and professional building, which houses the master's in engineering, nursing, teacher certification and technology incubation programs, enlarging it to 60,000 square feet. To do so, they will seek the involvement of such employers as nearby Electric Boat and Dominion Resources.
"It is this idea of expanding pathways to allow more students in southeastern Connecticut, who are place-bound, the opportunity to get STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)," Avery Point Director Michael Alfultis said.
Doubling the size of the building would help Avery Point expand graduate and professional programs in those subjects, and would also help expand the two-year engineering program, which allows students to take two years of engineering coursework before going to Storrs. It also would increase the number of laboratory facilities and classrooms, according to the proposal.
UConn Provost Moi Choi said the idea is still in the early stages.
"We have not even discussed it with EB, so we believe it is premature to discuss these areas of growth," Choi said.
He said the university is committed to investing in STEM, marine and ocean engineering, coastal resilience and entrepreneurship at Avery Point. However, the first concern is renovating the community and professional building, he said.
Sally M. Reis, vice provost of academic affairs, said UConn is trying to create more public-private partnerships, such as the one between UTC and UConn's School of Engineering. But, she said, the university's foundation and president haven't vetted the proposal to double the size of the community and professional building at Avery Point.
The local legislative delegation wants more improvements for Avery Point, including dorms, demolition of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center and a new academic building, Maynard said, and the new proposal is a good start.
"We will get there," Maynard said. "It is just a matter of timing and the phasing in of that and dealing with the financial realities."
State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said she thought UConn was responsive to the concerns legislators and community members have raised about Avery Point.
"Where we end up going with that, I am not sure," Ritter said. "I think that remains to be seen."
State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, who visited Avery Point this summer, said the local campus is in a spectacular location and has high potential.
"It is too good of a resource to not utilize to its highest and best use," he said.
Williams supports Maynard in getting the buildings, such as the R&D Center, that are not repairable taken down, he said.
"I doubt that those buildings were meant to last very long beyond World War II training purposes," he said.
Reis agreed that demolition of the center should be on UConn's agenda.
"It's a matter of what we can do, how far money can go. A lot of this is to be discussed," Reis said.
Dormitories are also something the local delegation wants, Maynard said. After Next Generation Connecticut proposed dorms for UConn's regional campus in Stamford, Avery Point supporters began calling for the same.
Reis said, "We don't have a plan now for dorms, but it is something we would consider for the future."
Avery Point students have the option to rent dorm space at Mitchell College in New London. There are about 70 spots at Mitchell, which should be enough for now, Alfultis said. If interest grows, that would be an argument for building a dorm at Avery Point, he said.
In the spring, UConn will create a major academic planning strategy for the next five years, Reis said.
"The whole notion of Avery Point being more STEM focused will be part of the academic plan," she said.