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10 year, $1.5 billion initiative moves forward

Series: A Year Ago This Week

By Alban Murtishi
On February 20, 2014

  • Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy looks into his teleprompter as he delivers his 2014 State of the State address in front of a joint session of the legislature in the House Chambers at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Last year Malloy annouced a $1.5 billion initiative to take UConn and Conn. to the next generation. AP

About a year ago, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced a $1.5 billion initiative that would take Connecticut and University of Connecticut into the next generation. Now, one year later, the projected 10-year Next Gen project has begun to make headway as UConn and state representatives release details about how the funds will be used.
"The entire enterprise is challenging, but it's the kind of challenge you want to have," Silbert Lawrence, vice provost of Next Gen, said. "Everything is about forward planning, and it's challenging by virtue of scale, because of the sheer enormity of the task."
As vice provost, Lawrence works to keep the gears of Next Gen spinning, specifically keeping the project on pace.
It has been one year since Next Gen was announced, and - although not much progress has been made in terms of shovels and construction trailers - behind the scenes, big moves are being made.
For example, the construction components of Next Gen have been revealed.
Stephanie Reitz, a university spokesperson, revealed that two new dorms will be constructed, as well as a new research complex. The construction of these buildings will take place between 2015 and 2017 and will be completed at roughly the same time. Next Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting will start the discussion on budgeting for these projects.
"Buildings like Arjona are functional, but they speak to their times: the 60s and 70s," Reitz said. "The new buildings represent the feeling of the university. You can see it when you look at Laurel and Oak Hall. They're modern in terms of use and energy efficiency, but they don't stick out like a sore thumb, the intention is to have them be stately without being out of place."
The focus of the new research and dorm buildings will be to facilitate the growth of STEM-based enrollment at the university.
STEM - or science, technology, engineering and math fields - are at the heart of Next Gen. State lawmakers and education policy leaders view these fields as vital to the next generation of workers.
"One of the residence halls will be for the Honors Program," Reitz said. "In addition to living there, they will have a lot of their programs there. It will basically be an entire community for them. The other building will be for students who want to study the STEM fields because that's where a lot of the enrollment will be focused."
The focus on STEM and construction of the new research complex may affect the fate of the Gant building. Reitz said that Gant may receive a renovation, but it will most likely end up as a teaching and office space.
"STEM has always been a focus for the university, but it became more important at the state level. The aim is to attract high-tech industries, get them to interact with the university and then keep the high quality students in the state." Dr. Lawrence said.
Next Gen's goal to expand opportunities for STEM majors is meant to address the current problem that many qualified applicants are turned down for these programs because there was not enough room, according to Reitz.
"We have very good applicants coming in for those programs, but the programs can't fit them," she said.
Future projections are being made. An estimated 6,850 students are expected to enroll as a result of the program expansion. That would be a 30 percent increase compared to UConn's current student population. Of those students, nearly half - 3,300 - would be enrolled in STEM fields.
These projections reflect calculations of what the future buildings will be able to contain in terms of students and research needs. "We looked at what programs we could offer, and the staff we could hire, and the space. It all needs to work together," Reitz said.
 


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