UConn Casts Wider Net In Downtown Hartford For Campus Relocation

The University of Connecticut may be cooling to the idea of relocating its West Hartford campus to the former Travelers Education Center. (Kenneth R. Gosselin)

The University of Connecticut said Thursday it is widening its search in downtown Hartford for the relocation of its West Hartford campus, including for land for possible new construction.

UConn was widely known to be closely evaluating the former Travelers Education Center on Constitution Plaza, after the university's board of trustees approved $243,000 for the study. The university hasn't commented on any sites it is considering, but the move to widen the search raises questions about their intentions for the education center.

An extended search could delay the relocation. In November, when UConn disclosed plans to sell its West Hartford campus and relocate students and faculty to downtown Hartford, the university said it expected the move to take place "within a year."

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said that could still happen, but an extensive renovation of an existing building or new construction could delay the move. Reitz said the university did not have a more specific timeline Thursday. If new construction is chosen, it typically takes 18-24 months to erect the structure.

"The intention is to cast as wide a net as possible," Reitz said. "There may be properties out there that may be a good fit. There may be owners and landlords that haven't thought of approaching the university."

The campus could be in one or more buildings. UConn is looking for 150,000 square feet of space for classrooms, laboratories, offices, conference rooms and other uses. Day and evening enrollment will be at least 3,100 students and 300 faculty members. There must be parking for 850 cars during the day and 800 at night.

UConn's decision to move its Greater Hartford campus back to Hartford followed a review of the aging West Hartford campus. The review showed it would cost nearly $25 million to repair and restore the deteriorated buildings and campus. In the past four years, the university has spent $7.2 million on repairs at the West Hartford campus.

The Greater Hartford campus opened in Hartford in 1939 and moved to various locations around the city. In 1970, it moved to its present 58-acre regional campus off Trout Brook Drive.

UConn would not release a draft report Thursday prepared by JCJ Architecture, which conducted the study of the education center. UConn said the study still needed to be finalized and some portions of it could change. It wasn't clear Thursday when the final report would be ready, or if it would be exempted from release under the state's right-to-know laws, given it was part of real estate negotiations, UConn said.

Thursday, Reitz again declined comment on the education center or any other sites it may have already considered.

"Nothing is a front-runner and nothing is ruled out," Reitz said.

Two other sites have been mentioned as possible candidates: the twin-towered Connecticut River Plaza on Columbus Boulevard and the smaller, One Talcott Plaza.

The larger, Connecticut River Plaza has far more space than UConn needs, at 575,000 square feet; and the state of Connecticut is close to a deal to purchase the property for consolidating state workers now in other leased office space, according to real estate sources.

The smaller, 103,000-square-foot building on Talcott Street near the G. Fox building has long been vacant.