Faculty Row, the nine brown houses near South Campus, are expected to be demolished in favor of a new green space, University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.
The space was originally envisioned as the location of a new dorm, but the reduction in state aid to the University of Connecticut, and the subsequent slowdown in enrollment, has eliminated the need for a new housing in the near future, Reitz said. Instead, the land will be used to create a park that evokes the natural landscape of Connecticut, according to the UConn Master Plan.
The houses were built as faculty housing between 1912 and 1918 as part of architect Charles Lowrie’s original plan for UConn when it was still the Connecticut School of Agriculture. In 1988, they were listed as part of UConn’s historic district on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Faculty Row stands out because the homes are built on a human scale in contrast to the gigantic buildings that make up the rest of campus, said Gail Bruhn, chair of the Mansfield Historic District Commission.
“I am concerned because these buildings in and of themselves are very interesting, but most interesting is that they were part of the original design for this campus,” Bruhn said.
A petition to “Save UCONN’s Faculty Row” has received 650 signatures and 30 letters of support to date, said Margaret Faber, a member of Connecticut’s Historic Preservation Council speaking in an individual capacity. The demolition of a collection of historic Queen Anne homes and a typewriter factory was delayed earlier this year in Stamford after only 29 form letters were submitted to the HPC in opposition, Faber said.
There appears to be a double standard, Faber said: while the HPC is expected to vote on whether the State Historic Preservation Office should take further legal action to preserve buildings in Stamford, the demolition of Faculty Row was approved despite a comparative outpouring of public opposition.
Instead of seeking to prevent “the unreasonable destruction of historic structures and landmarks of the state” under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, SHPO signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UConn permitting the demolition so long as the university performs certain mitigation actions. These include conducting a study on the best processes for making decisions about historic buildings on campus, serving as a venue for a statewide symposium on historic preservation and documenting the Brown Houses for Connecticut’s historic records, according to SHPO’s official email response to constituents.
Faber said her commission wasn’t even aware of the plan for Faculty Row until a member happened to walk through campus and saw that four houses were going to be demolished to create a staging area for construction of UConn’s new recreation center.
“A lot of people have really good adaptive reuse plans for the buildings and it would be very good if they were taken on board,” Faber said.
Although the Mansfield Historic District doesn’t have jurisdiction over UConn property, Bruhn said her commission was also surprised that the changes to Faculty Row weren’t better publicized.
It would cost approximately $9 million to renovate the Brown Houses, some of which contain hazardous materials such as asbestos and PCBs, said University Planner Laura Cruickshank in a letter to the Hartford Courant. Taxpayers and students would have to foot the bill to update the vacant buildings, which have been used mainly as Greek housing and office space in the past 60 years, she wrote.
“Many buildings in the Historic District on campus should be preserved. The former fraternity and sorority houses are just not among them. They are crumbling eyesores,” Cruickshank said in the Hartford Courant. “Renovating the houses would mean that the university would spend millions of dollars it does not want to spend on a project it does not want to undertake to renovate buildings it has no use for.”
Bruhn said she remains unconvinced, however.
“I think their cost projection is way out of line,” Bruhn said. “They could easily be updated, the interiors are not in bad shape, they might have cosmetic things, and they need asbestos abatement, but that’s not unusual. The university has done this with other buildings.”
Cruickshank was not available for comment in time for publication.
Kimberly Armstrong is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.