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Anticipating legal action, delay, Austin
returns to original plan for Pfizer site
July 19, 1999
President Philip E. Austin has announced that the UConn-Pfizer Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research (CEVR) will be constructed on the site originally approved for the facility.
Austin said the decision to use the original site, located off Rte. 195, across the road from and more than 1,000 feet north of the summit of Horsebarn Hill, is based on a thorough review, including a legal analysis.
The review indicated that changing the site will increase the likelihood of already threatened litigation, cause untenable delays, and result in substantial cost increases.
The president's decision is consistent with the final action of the University's Master Plan Advisory Committee (MPAC), which recommended that if moving the building site to the north and east delays the project significantly or otherwise jeopardizes the partnership with Pfizer, then the original site should be used.
"The legal advice shared with me by retained counsel with environmental expertise has led me to the inescapable conclusion that changing the site would open new prospects for legal challenge," Austin said.
"The challenge would significantly increase the probability that changing the site would result in delays and excessive cost increases and would seriously threaten the UConn-Pfizer partnership and the benefits that would accrue to the University's faculty and students, Pfizer, the Town of Mansfield, the Eastern Connecticut region and the State of Connecticut," he added. "We must move forward expeditiously on this project.
"The project's originally anticipated completion date has already been delayed by well over a year, and as a result, construction costs have increased due to inflation and redesign in response to public comment," Austin said.
"It is apparent that some opponents of the partnership will use any re-siting as an opportunity to delay further the project and continue to increase its costs. It is now imperative to move quickly to protect our partnership with Pfizer and to secure the important advantages to UConn, the town, and the state that CEVR will produce," he said.
Major design changes were made prior to approval by the state's Office of Policy and Management in response to public comment received throughout the environmental assessment process.
Changes include redesigning and reducing the footprint of the building by nearly 20 percent, and siting the center farther east. Lighting, grading and landscaping, fencing, signage and driveway access are being modified in accordance with recommendations made by the town and the MPAC.
The Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill, a group opposed to siting the center in the Horsebarn Hill area, last Wednesday filed suit in Hartford Superior Court, naming the Office of Policy and Management and the University administration as defendants.
The CEVR represents an expansion of a four-year UConn-Pfizer partnership, which is now expected to create an internationally prominent center for cutting-edge research on animal vaccines. The 90,000 square foot building will house laboratories for UConn and Pfizer scientists.
"UConn will benefit from Pfizer's $35 million investment in CEVR and will be better able to fulfill its land grant mission to conduct research that supports the economic vitality and improves the quality of life in Connecticut, across the nation and throughout the world," Austin said.
He noted that Connecticut will gain from this significant investment by the pharmaceutical industry, a thriving segment of the state's economy.
"This important project will provide our global scientific teams with access to some of the finest animal vaccine researchers in the world - right here at our own state research university," said George Milne, president of Pfizer Central Research.
"Pfizer will benefit from collaborating with UConn faculty to produce vaccines that will prevent livestock-specific diseases that compromise food safety and farm animal welfare, and help to improve agricultural economics in Connecticut, the nation, and around the globe," Milne added. "Our company operates in a competitive environment. Time erodes value, and we must move forward."
The state's Office of Policy and Management has already approved a finding that the siting of the facility will have no significant environmental impact. In addition, the site was approved by the University's MPAC after an extensive review and open process that included more than 20 hours of information gathering, deliberation s, and a lengthy public hearing.
The University will manage the facility. Approximately one-fifth of the building will be dedicated to state-of-the-art laboratories for UConn research.
"The facility will allow graduate students and selected undergraduates to acquire research experience and obtain research assistantships and fellowship support while enhancing their ability to secure future employment in the private sector, including Pfizer's Connecticut-based central research operations in Groton," said Robert Smith, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school.
"The CEVR facility clearly complements UConn's land grant mission of teaching, research and public service," he said. "It is a great honor that Pfizer wants to build this facility at UConn, rather than at one of the other nationally prominent research universities that would welcome a similar partnership with Pfizer."
Karen A. Grava