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From the Provost

- October 17, 2005

Like other new recruits to the University of Connecticut, I was attracted by the tangible benefits of the past 10 years of construction and renovation under the UConn 2000 program.

Provost Peter Nicholls
Provost Peter Nicholls

The first-rate teaching facilities, lab space, residence halls, and administrative offices resulting from the $1 billion committed by the legislature for UConn 2000 have already drawn an increasingly talented and diverse student body and many outstanding and highly qualified new faculty and staff.

We are uniquely fortunate as a state university that this progress will continue over the next decade with 21st Century UConn. This major commitment from the State of Connecticut will provide an additional $1.3 billion in continued infrastructure improvements to Storrs and the regional campuses and to the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

Times and conditions change, and so must our plans and priorities. As we transition from UConn 2000 to 21st Century UConn, and as three major projects—the Pharmacy/Biology Building, the Burton/Shenkman Athletic Complex, and Phase II of the Student Union—reach or approach completion, it is time to re-examine our construction plans to ensure that the scope and sequence of the projects reflect our current needs.

When state legislators approved a continuation of funding for the University several years ago, they didn’t write us a blank check; they asked for an outline of intended projects. On the University’s part, a great deal of careful planning went into identifying the infrastructure needs not yet addressed by UConn 2000.

For Storrs and the regional campuses, 43 separate projects are listed by name. It has become clear to me, however, from looking at the plans and the budgeted amounts, that the list presents some challenges, not least because inflation has rendered it over-optimistic.

We remain committed to each of the projects named and are not authorized to add or remove any. But we also have considerable flexibility in deciding the scope of each project and hence its budget, and also the sequence of the projects identified.

The task at hand is to figure out a 10-year plan that’s going to be realistic and speaks to the needs of the University, without exceeding the fiscal limits of the program.

As we consider all of our priorities, there will be tough decisions to make. These will be made through a process of consultation with the Council of Deans, the Building and Grounds Committee, the Senior Administrative Team, and through open discussions with the University community at large.

While we will be guided by the careful planning to date, the criteria grounding the decision-making process will include the projects’ centrality to the mission of the University and the physical condition of the current facility.

During the next 10 years, we have the opportunity to get our undergraduate education facilities right. We must replace or augment the available classroom space to meet the needs of our increased student enrollment, while ensuring that our students enjoy a positive educational experience and a safe environment.

At the same time, research is a priority and we have a goal of increasing research funding, so we must ensure that our research units, especially those with the potential to attract significant external funding, have the type of up-to-date facilities that will support their mission.

The 10-year construction program includes several research and teaching facilities that are needed to accommodate the needs of faculty, staff, and students in many different schools and colleges. It is critically important that we develop a realistic timeline for the entire program of construction and renovation.

In order to accomplish this, we must develop a practical, well-researched set of cost data for all the projects, especially given the impact of inflation in the past several years and public interest in the University’s construction program.

As one cost-saving measure, we plan to have guidelines developed for faculty space, lab space, classroom space, and equipment, to avoid the need to develop separate plans for every building. These guidelines will be based on practices in higher education, our own experience to date, and our budget. Adopting a more uniform approach in the future will enable us to cut down our costs by reducing the number of special features, while still accomplishing our goals.

We also plan to form a new committee, the Capital Projects Advisory Committee, which will take the place of the former Master Planning Committee. This group, chaired by me and Vice President Flaherty-Goldsmith, will foster communications on campus and provide advice on the implementation of capital projects. Our aim is to have a revised, 10-year construction program ready for approval by the Board of Trustees by early 2006.

Our next immediate priority will be to proceed with the planning process for the Arjona/Monteith and Torrey Life Sciences projects. These were the next two major projects that our previous planning had identified. They are both facilities that are central and critical to the success of our teaching and research missions and both facilities are currently in very poor physical condition.

It is no exaggeration to say that undergraduate education at UConn cannot be satisfactorily accomplished without replacing the current worn and outdated space in the Arjona and Monteith Buildings.

In view of this, I will be working over the coming weeks with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and with others to identify who will be the occupants of the Arjona/Monteith replacement facility, what their space needs are, whether the current buildings should be remodeled or replaced, and where – if rebuilt – they should be located.

There are other important decisions to make too, such as how many classrooms to include, and whether to incorporate some departments currently located elsewhere. It is my hope that we will be able to break ground on the Arjona/Monteith project by fall 2007.

The people of the state have made a 20-year investment of $2.3 billion in our buildings. But their expectations are high. We must continue to develop an infrastructure that will support and facilitate excellence in teaching, research, and outreach, and serve as the foundation in our quest to be among the top public universities for the 21st century.

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