Trustees approve $2 million in additional funds for new gym development

Members of the UConn Board of Trustees listen as university president Susan Herbst (second from left) speaks during the board's meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn Board of Trustees voted Wednesday morning to approve an additional $2 million in funding to plan and design the new student recreation center at the Connecticut Commons site amid questions about the role of the board in the site selection process.

Administration officials were previously allotted $500,000 in December 2013 to begin the process of finding a site. Following the selection of Connecticut Commons, more funds were needed to begin drawing up final schematics for the construction of the facility.

“Everybody just wants to get it done as quickly as possible,” university master planner and chief architect Laura Cruickshank said. “We have a lot of utility-kinds of projects that we have to work out. We have to dovetail their schedules into the (final) schedule of the rec center. We can’t say yet when we can get it open.”

Despite the board granting additional funding, the selection of Connecticut Commons as the final site was not communicated to some board members before a public announcement had been made to UConn students on Sept. 10, a university source close to the matter told The Daily Campus on Wednesday.

Cruickshank said she and several other administrators had effectively reached a final decision on the site by the end of August, but did not involve the board of trustees in the process.

Tom Ritter, who chairs the board’s buildings, grounds and environment committee, confirmed that he and other trustees did not play a role in the selection of the site. However, he said the reason was because it was “above and beyond” board members’ responsibilities.

“Laura Cruickshank and her team, they decided the site, with discussion with students and everybody else,” Ritter said. “We were deliberately out of the loop, because we’re not the experts to figure out where it should be.”

However, Ritter’s committee and the financial affairs committee are obligated to play a larger role in the process, board documents show. Board members approved the initial planning of the recreation center in November 2013 under a strict framework where the two committees would vote on proposals "after each has conducted a thorough review.”

The Daily Campus learned exclusively and reported Wednesday that at least two members of buildings, grounds and environment were not aware of the selection of Connecticut Commons as the site before the public announcement on Sept. 10.

Cruickshank presented the Connecticut Commons site proposal this month to both the financial affairs and buildings, grounds and environment committees, and neither showed any resistance to the request for additional funds for revised planning.

Furthermore, during the financial affairs committee meeting earlier Wednesday morning, no committee members had any questions for her on the subject. The board went on to prove the recommendation from the committees without any discussion.

The November 2013 board meeting minutes state that board members voted to amend the original recreation center recommendation, adding a requirement to involve the two committees. Board chairman Larry McHugh said he was pleased with the decision and said such detailed review would be important “considering the magnitude of the project,” according to minutes from the December 2013 financial affairs committee meeting.

Ritter said the committee’s most significant concern was creating an atmosphere that would encourage the development of a site quickly, adding the board has been trying to do this for “six or seven years.”

Cruickshank said plans for the site will be developed starting in October with bidding for construction projected to begin in January 2017. Connecticut Commons is scheduled to be demolished by summer 2017, but Cruickshank said it could happen as early as 2016.

The board approved the funding Wednesday along with an update to the language of the recreation center proposal that would ensure students will not begin paying for the facility until its projected opening in Fall 2019.


Kyle Constable is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kyle.constable@uconn.edu. He tweets @KyleConstable.