In a June 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the State Historic Preservation Office and the University of Connecticut came to an understanding regarding the demolition of the derelict “Brown Houses,” otherwise known as “Faculty Row.” The nine structures near South Campus were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, which the MOU states came about as a result of the buildings acting as “contributing resources” to the UConn Historic District.
According to a Daily Campus article published Oct. 21, the demolition of the structures has been met with public opposition, as over 650 petitioners led by Margaret Faber continue to challenge University plans. Faber and others argue the estimated $9 million cost of renovating the nine buildings, as well as the characterization of their state as entirely decrepit, are inaccurate.
The argument in favor of preserving historic structures is noble. Without historic structures, the University would lose a valuable connection with its past, threatening to become a campus dotted only with structures of contemporary design. Though, according to the MOU, these brown houses were constructed between 1900 and 1920 for faculty housing, subsequently being used for Greek life housing, their historic value is now outweighed by their state of disrepair.
The University’s plan to turn the site of these buildings into a green space will serve to bring this area of campus back to the rural character that existed even before the construction of Faculty Row. Pouring millions of dollars into these structures, which are incapable of being renovated into usable space for a modern university, would be a tremendous misuse of resources.
Using funds to remove these structures and create a green space is a far more pragmatic use of University funds. Other historic buildings, such as Wood and Manchester Hall, or the Family Studies Building, are more logical targets for historic preservation. These structures, built with federal funds during the Great Depression are in fine shape, but could do with some internal modernization. The University should direct funds toward usable, sensible structures of equal—if not greater—historic importance.
Tearing down Faculty Row does not threaten the historic integrity of the University of Connecticut. Since 1881, there has been an unbroken history of academic and research excellence in Storrs. Helping to secure the financial future and viability of the university by making a tough, but pragmatic construction decision falls into line with this continued effort to make the UConn one of the premier public research-universities in the world.