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Pfizer site debated: Planning Committee to decide in few weeks
May 3, 1999
tudents, alumni, faculty, and area residents Wednesday commented on the proposed site of the UConn-Pfizer Center of Excellence in Vaccine Research at a sometimes heated five-and-a-half hour public hearing in the Student Union conducted by the Master Plan Advisory Committee.
The testimony will be used by the committee, which will make a recommendation to President Philip E. Austin about the CEVR's proposed Horsebarn Hill Road site within the next few weeks, said Karla Fox, associate vice chancellor, and co-chair of the parking committee.
The 90,000 square-foot, $35 million building has been designed to UConn's architectural standards and will be used for research on vaccines for animal diseases that compromise food safety and animal welfare. The site of the building, off Route 195 on Horsebarn Hill Road, received both support and criticism at the hearing.
Robert Smith, associate provost for research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School, said the CEVR is a "unique arrangement that will provide extraordinary opportunity to do basic vaccine research and UConn-Pfizer collaborations, including research and academic support for students and faculty alike."
The site, he said, was one of several considered and does not affect the beauty of Horsebarn Hill. "We all love Horsebarn Hill," he said.
Andrea Dennis-LaVigne, a veterinarian and president of the UConn Alumni Association, said "the place for agriculture is on the east side of Rt. 195." The proposed UConn-Pfizer partnership could put UConn "on the map," she said.
Ian Hart, professor and head of animal science, said he lives less than a quarter mile from Horsebarn Hill Road. He said the site "makes good sense. I take my dog on walks (on Horsebarn Hill) and greatly enjoy the view," he said. "None of it is impaired by the center."
Salvatore Frasca Jr., an assistant professor of pathobiology, said the building needs to be close to the
agricultural biotechnology facilities to allow effective interaction. "This is the site for the facility," he said, and he urged the committee to move quickly. He said UConn must not let the project slip away through inaction: "A break-through university needs to move quickly."
Erin Sepe, a student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a sheep farmer, said she sees the Pfizer collaboration as ideal. "They have resources, we have talent," she said. Sepe, who said she gave up the opportunity for an Ivy League education to attend UConn, also said delay will cause the partnership to be lost.
"I came to UConn because I believe in the future and the future means projects and partnerships like this one."
Steve Rogers, a 24-year Mansfield resident and a UConn graduate, said the Mansfield Business and Professional Association unanimously supports CEVR. "There is a positive benefit (of this project) to UConn, to students, to the entire state and perhaps to the entire world," he said.
Herbert Whiteley, professor and head of pathobiology, said collaboratio n with Pfizer on a small project has allowed the department to refurbish Spring Hill Farm, support graduate fellowships and undergraduate students, hire four new animal care staff, begin a program for veterinarians, and recruit high-achieving faculty and students.
"The siting of this building is an important benefit. It provides easy access for students, faculty and staff," he said. "It is in proximity to other facilities such as the agricultural biotech building, the diagnostic lab ... and in five or 10 years, that is going to be even more important that it is now."
But others said the site is not suitable. Mary Perry of Mansfield said that siting the building on Horsebarn Hill is like "building Walmart in the Grand Canyon." Ainslie Gilligan of Gurleyville Road, a member of the Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill, suggested moving the project to a site near W lot. Jeff Hawks, a philosophy student, said he "values progress. But progress at any price is not progress at all. With progress you never know what you will get; with the hill, you know what we have."
Quentin Kessel, a professor of physics whose parents sold the University 120 acres on Horsebarn Hill in hopes it would be preserved and are buried near where the CEVR would be constructed, said he feels the University is in a dilemma. "We will either lose the hillside or lose Pfizer," he said.
And Peter Newcomer, a 50-year resident of Mansfield, said the Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill has hired a lawyer and will "make every delay possible happen if you don't get this building off Horsebarn Hill."