Depot Campus renovations must wait until finances are in order

The University of Connecticut announced, in accordance with the Master Plan, intentions to follow through on renovations of the Depot Campus. According to an article by Nicholas Shigo in the Daily Campus, “almost half of the 57 buildings on Depot Campus are vacant or used for storage.” According to the Hartford Courant, Connecticut originally used the 435-acre plot as a state mental hospital, the Mansfield Training School, until the state shut down the location in the early 1990s.

Many of the buildings on Depot Campus are historic, with the site of the old school being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. However, with the university’s focus on the central Storrs campus, the historic site has become a mismatch of habitable, modern buildings, and derelict structures.

The Daily Campus quoted Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Michael Makuch as saying “many of the buildings are not up to code” and thus would require a large investment of resources to renovate for the use of students, faculty and staff. While this property is invaluable to the ever growing UConn population, the school must not use funds for renovation at the present time. With the Hartford Courant reporting that UConn is running a $40.2 million budget deficit, using funds – previously allocated or not – for Depot Campus renovation is illogical.

UConn is currently undergoing a host of scheduled renovations on the main Storrs campus, while the administration continues to plan future renovations and projects, such as plans the much-needed needed new student recreation center. If student funds are to be allocated for projects in the current financial climate, they must be of dire need for the student body and faculty.

Given the Depot Campus’ distance from the central Storrs campus, there are few valid uses for this 435-acre plot which would absolve the administration’s decision to push forward with planned renovations. Several of the plans discussed in the Daily Campus report include the construction of “a climate-controlled archive to free up space in the Homer Babbidge library” as well as “residential space for faculty, staff and graduate students.” 

While the student population is in need of more residential buildings, placing such dormitories off campus would not provide an adequate solution to the problem. Even if the new structures were reserved for the stated populations, i.e. not undergraduate students, more transportation infrastructure would need to be created to support this off-campus population.

Bus transportation, emergency service access, modern telecommunications and other concerns would need to be addressed before members of the UConn student body or faculty could reside at Depot Campus. Beyond the bare cost of renovation and construction, the university would need to invest millions it simply does not have.    

Though renovations to Depot Campus were laid out in the Master Plan, even previously allocated funds must be reassessed given UConn’s current financial situation. Any potential measures which would mitigate a potential tuition rise, while not impacting student and faculty life, must be considered.