As an alumnus of the UConn School of Business, a member of the Storrs community, Chair of the Mansfield Historic District Commission and local preservationist, I am writing to point out an issue that I believe the University of Connecticut has misrepresented to the public. Further, I believe this is an opportunity to enhance alumni support.
The university is planning to demolish the houses between Gilbert and Whitney Roads that are termed “Faculty Row.” These houses are on the National and State Registers of Historic Places and were part of the original Charles Lowrie plan for the Connecticut School of Agriculture, from which the current UConn developed.
Charles Lowrie was a well-known landscape architect, who also did early plans for Penn State. Mirror Lake and the classic buildings off of Route 195 were part of his design for a college that served the needs of the “common man.” This was novel at the turn of the 19th century and in contrast to the education provided by Yale.
The university is erroneously depicting the cottages as in poor condition and requiring $1 million per house for renovation. This is blatantly not true; they could easily be rehabilitated and used to house visiting faculty, offices etc. The assertion that the area provided by demolishing the nine houses will be a “green common” is likewise erroneous, as the university master plan shows five of the houses being demolished for new buildings.
Today, this is a lovely green area and leads down to Mirror Lake. It is indeed an oasis and a welcome diversion from the concrete and brick of the surrounding tall buildings. More importantly, it is well-known to alumni. I have heard UConn Foundation head, Josh Newton, speak of the interest alumni have, not in the new buildings on campus, but rather the new downtown in Storrs Center. I believe they would be equally interested in the preservation and reuse of these historic buildings, as part of the historic campus.
A petition to save the buildings is currently circulating and includes over 500 signatures, many from alumni. This is a topic not unfamiliar to major colleges and universities. Over 85 major schools benefited from the Getty Foundation’s grants from 2002 – 2007 to review and develop plans for reuse of historic campus buildings.
From the Getty’s Campus Heritage Initiative, R. Zelnick, FASLA, reports:
‘“ A number of Getty-funded institutions report that college and university personnel from presidents to maintenance staff have an increased appreciation for, and understanding of, heritage resources. In some cases, project reports have also served as the basis for renewed support from alumni and donors. At one institution, the information and ideas generated by the report became the foundation for a national alumni relations program”*
Gail Bruhn is Chair of the Mansfield Historic District and a Trustee of Joshua’s Tract Conservation and Historic Trust.