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October 8, 2001

First Avery Point Day to Showcase
Positive Changes at Campus

The tide is turning at the Avery Point Campus in Groton. What had been a crumbling campus with sprawling green lawns and spectacular views of Long Island Sound is undergoing a facelift, and the dramatic changes will be showcased this Saturday, during the first UConn Avery Point Day.

The event is aimed at drawing families from southeastern Connecticut and beyond, to the campus-by-the sea, with more than 70 exhibits and demonstrations, as well as music and food.

"The idea of Avery Point Day is to get us on the map. We want the community to come onto our campus, and to see and experience the rich resources we have here," says Joseph Comprone, associate vice chancellor and campus director.

The campus, which opened in 1967, has long had limited resources. The World War II-era buildings were constructed as a temporary facility on what was left of the summer estate of Morton Plant, a turn-of-the-century industrialist.

Conditions there began taking a turn in 1995, when the University's strategic plan charged the regional campuses with clearly defining their mission. Vice Chancellor Fred Maryanski, who oversees the regional campuses, says Avery Point has the clearest mission among the regional campuses: to build on its strengths in marine sciences and its location on Long Island Sound.

"The Avery Point campus is certainly demonstrating that by focusing on its mission and marshaling its resources, the University can define a niche and become a national leader," says Maryanski. "We are seeing this in their research programs and in their new academic programs - coastal studies and maritime studies."

An infusion of nearly $48 million from UConn 2000 has gone a long way in rectifying the leaky roofs and archaic infrastructure. The first wave of construction included a new central utility plant, the new marine sciences and Project Oceanology buildings, and the renovation of the Branford House - part of which has been turned into administrative offices. The gymnasium has been painted and is about to get a new roof. The academic building is slated for an overhaul next spring. And then there are the improvements in telecommunications and landscaping.

The renaissance involves academic programs as well as the education and research facilities. Comprone, hired in 1999, says his role as campus director became clear to him very quickly: "This campus had a scattered group of gems - strong but separate programs. I knew we had to try and pull them together into some kind of integrated piece of jewelry. It doesn't happen over-night, but I think we've made incredible progress. The physical plant improvements have helped."

There are more changes on deck. Avery Point is awaiting final approval for an undergraduate maritime studies program, exploring the creation of a nursing program, and making efforts to develop housing for students.

Comprone is developing a proposal with the Waterford Hotel Group, which manages a small building in New London and rents rooms to the public. Comprone hopes they'll strike a deal to offer rooms to Avery Point's 720 students for the next several years, while the feasibility of building a residence hall on campus is determined.

In the meantime, Comprone and his crew are working to raise the profile of the campus and promote the educational, research and cultural opportunities available to the community. All campus groups are participating, from the bookstore to undergraduate and graduate faculty and students, Project Oceanology, the National Undersea Research Center, the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program, the Long Island Resource Center and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Carol Crosby, who organized Avery Point Day, has been working with school systems to publicize the event, which is free to the public.

"We have something to offer people of all ages, from six to 106," Crosby says.

Along with the rededication of the Branford House, events include: a demonstration showing how oysters clean the Sound, tours of the UConn research vessel, a field trip to a nearby freshwater pond, lessons on setting up a saltwater aquarium, and a chance to get up close and personal with a variety of sea life on exhibit in touch tanks.

Various musical performances are planned, and a local boat club is making several rowboats and a sailboat available for use by the public.

For more information, visit the website.

Janice Palmer