UConn to tear down 'eyesore' at Groton campus

Groton — The University of Connecticut plans to spend $10 million of its NextGenCT funding to demolish a vacant building that divides the Avery Point campus in two.

Both UConn President Susan Herbst and Avery Point Campus Director Michael Alfultis have called the building an eyesore.

Removing it, Alfultis said, will be "transformative" because it will create an open space in the center of the campus and unite the marine science building with the social science and humanities building. When students enter the campus, they will see the Branford House Mansion overlooking Long Island Sound instead of a World War II-era, cinder block building, he added.

The board of trustees is expected to approve a budget at its March 26 meeting in Storrs that includes money to begin planning for the demolition of the building, which was used by the Coast Guard until the units that were based there moved to New London in 2009.

Avery Point is now slated to receive $25 million of the more than $1.5 billion in bonding and $137 million from the state's general fund the legislature approved for "Next Generation Connecticut," an initiative to significantly expand UConn's science, technology, engineering and math programs and to make the research university a leader in these disciplines over the next decade.

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Friday that removing the building has been a top priority because "it stood there, as a blemish on the face of this jewel of a campus." He said he was delighted to hear the news and grateful to the university administrators in Groton and Storrs for recognizing the need, and to the trustees for acting on it.

"There is an ambitious program for the entire university system and we are eager to see this beautiful campus brought up to the level it deserves," he said.

When Malloy first proposed NextGenCT, the local legislative delegation feared Avery Point would be overlooked because there was no specific allocation for it in the original proposal. Because of their lobbying, $15 million was earmarked to renovate two buildings and improve the dock used for research vessels at Avery Point.

In January, when a research center that will tackle the problem of climate change opened at Avery Point, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Avery Point is a "real jewel in the UConn system," which to some extent has been "underutilized," and promised that the new institute would be a "down payment" on his commitment to southeastern Connecticut.

Maynard said he is now confident that Avery Point will not be overlooked, especially since there are future plans to add academic space and hire faculty.

Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith said the changes at Avery Point are "good news" for both the campus and the city because Avery Point is critical to the area's economic development. Galbraith said she hopes the university will next invest in dormitories for Avery Point, so more students will want to attend.

"Once you get rid of what's unusable, you can start to do the development that is usable and that's important," she said. "… This is such an important step in being able to develop that campus, to use it as it really can be used. I am very happy about this."

The building will be partly demolished this summer when the money from NextGenCT starts to become available. The underground utilities will be redone and the work will be completed next summer, for a total cost of about $10 million.

Alfultis said he will start working on a master plan to figure out how to best use the land that was occupied by the Coast Guard building. The campus is going to start to look very different, Alfultis said, and he hopes the investments will help attract more students to Groton. Avery Point opened a new $9.7 million student center last summer.

"I think there is going to be generally a sense from the campus perspective that we're benefiting, we're being looked at by Storrs," he said. "Because I think we're going to see a five- to six-year period of renovations and improvements to the campus."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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