WestConn’s Two Campuses: Past, Present, and Future

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by Drew Mazur
from The Echo

WestConn's Westside Campus.

WITHOUT TWO CAMPUSES, Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) would not be in Danbury.

In his book, A People’s University, WestConn professor emeritus of history Dr. Herbert Janick discusses how WestConn evolved to a point where more living accommodations for students was necessary.

The idea of building a second campus had been presented by News-Times editor Steve Collins in 1966.  Then-president Ruth Haas bought a 232-acre piece of land on Mill Plain Road from businessman John Previdi in order to save what was at that point Danbury State College. In the fall semester of 1968, Haas announced that the school would develop into the two-campus college it is today.

by Drew Mazur
from The Echo

 


 

WestConn's Westside Campus.

WITHOUT TWO CAMPUSES, Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) would not be in Danbury.

In his book, A People’s University, WestConn professor emeritus of history Dr. Herbert Janick discusses how WestConn evolved to a point where more living accommodations for students was necessary. Less than a third of  women attending the school took up on-campus residency at the school in 1960, while all 308 men had to live off campus. Then the Board of Trustees took control of the state colleges in 1965. Around 1968 there was pressure to expand, but more property downtown was too expensive. According to reports from Walter Werner, who was chairman of the planning committee of the Board of Trustees, a number of teachers were in support of moving. The Danbury campus was in danger of being cut out of the state school list, in favor of a proposed new state college in southern Fairfield County.

The idea of building a second campus had been presented by News-Times editor Steve Collins in 1966.  Then-president Ruth Haas bought a 232-acre piece of land on Mill Plain Road from businessman John Previdi in order to save what was at that point Danbury State College. In the fall semester of 1968, Haas announced that the school would develop into the two-campus college it is today.

“There were those who felt the entire school should move to that location but that didn’t happen,” said Brian Stevens, archivist and special collections librarian at Haas Library, in an interview.  “There are numerous reasons and WestConn’s Midtown Campus was maintained; there was the expense of building the entire school in a new location; there was the fact that it took so long to secure funding for Westside that expansion was made to Midtown in the interim, making it harder to abandon; there were benefits to the city and school to being near downtown Danbury; and the land at Westside alone probably wasn’t going to be enough space for the growing university,” said Brian Stevens, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Haas Library.


Problems and Solutions

 

There have been problems over the years due to the split campus.

“At WestCon there has sometimes been a sense, by those whose primary work is on Westside, that they are not part of the main campus and therefore do not always know what is happening,” said Walter Bernstein, Vice President of student affairs. “In recent years, however, this has changed a great deal.”

The Westside Campus Center opened in 2007, complete with a new food venue. According to Bernstein, moving all the athletic programs to Westside was another strategy to make the Westside more exciting. Westside also houses almost 1,000 students in Pinney Hall, Centennial Hall and Grasso Hall.

“In addition, technology has allowed us to communicate regularly across the two campuses,” said Bernstein in an interview. “Yes, there probably are students and others who would rather not travel back and forth but the shuttle service, even with some of its problems, provides an inexpensive way to travel between the two sites. And the development on that Westside, with new restaurants, stores and shopping, has brought many more people to that part of town. I would say then that there is less of a sense of isolation on the Westside Campus than there may have been ten years ago.”

Two campuses can also mean twice the cost. WestConn runs two resident dining programs, and according to Paul Simon, director of campus and student centers, this brings up expenses and limits food options.

“Most schools just run one,” Simon said in an interview. “So because of that we literally have double expenses, which means we can’t do the variety that our dining contractor, the students and I want.”

The Robert S. Young Library on the Westside campus in October of 1982. It was modeled similar to a corporate library in order to accommodate the students of the Ancell School of Business of WestConn.

“A second library results in a large increase in costs,” aid Edward O’Hara, director of library services. “A second staff is necessary, some materials must be duplicated, and additional equipment must be purchased. Moreover, it is sometimes inconvenient if the item you need is at the other library.”

The Echo’s contributing writer Denise Roberts, a business minor at WestConn, has classes for her minor Tuesdays and Thursday,on the Westside campus. Just one of the students who has no car, she rides the bus from campus to campus until 5:30pm. She works on the Midtown Campus at 9:45am, has classes on the Westside campus from 11:30am until 3:45pm, and then work again on the Midtown Campus at 4:30pm.

“For some reason, the small shuttle is the only one running majority of the time, and nine times out of ten, it’s packed.,” said Roberts in an interview. “I have to rush to catch the shuttle, to make sure I make it to everything on time because I don’t have time to spare.” s

“Sometimes on the weekends or even during the week it’s hard to be able to get on a shuttle bus to Westside vice versa, especially at the peak of the day around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said student Kareena D. McCalla. “It’s either the bus is too full when it leaves midtown, so those at Brookview [Commons] cannot get on, or when it leaves Midtown, half the students that are waiting for a shuttle. Even on the weekends, the shuttle bus schedule is completely off. They are always running a half hour late and that becomes a domino effect, especially when you give yourself a 45 min window and they are arriving an hour later. It’s crazy.”

Paul Simon monitors the driver reports of how many students are on the shuttle at any time.

“For example, the 10 o’clock leaving Westside may be full, but the 9:45 has seats,” said Simon. “And at about 80 dollars an hour, with a minimum of four hours, it’s a little hard to say, ‘because this one bus is full, we’re going to put another bus on,’ when I know 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later there’s room. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality.”

Simon explained that it is expensive to run four buses each day, timing them to arrive every 15 minutes. The expense is, as he said, “a cost that we need to have.” Currently, the 11pm bus doesn’t leave Midtown until 11:15pm to make sure that the students who work on campus, for example, in the computer labs and the library, can get transportation back to Westside.

“We look at ridership and see what students needs are,” said Simon.

Simon urges students to provide feedback with specific information about the problems they have encountered. To share your experience about the shuttle system, e-mail shuttle@wcsu.edu.

“Then I can go look up to see what the problem was or I can go to the shuttle company and say, ‘why did this occur?’ and I usually get a very quick response from them, and they take care of it,” Simon said. ” I never give them the name of the student who e-mails me.”

Simon has also announced one upcoming change to the bus shuttle service.

“One of the big changes we’re going to make is a new shuttle stop, going up the hill, will be put where the practice field is now, because that’s going to become the student parking lot,” he explained.  “The faculty lot is going to move to the student lot.”

 

The Master Plan

 

WestConn, adding on to the Westside Campus, plans to open a visual and performing arts center in 2014. This building will include a 350-seat concert hall and a theater of similar volume.

“The new performing arts center opens in two years with another combined 400 students in these programs taking classes and performing on Westside,” said Bernstein. “Once the performing arts building opens, this will bring even greater numbers of students and members of the community to that campus.”

According to the 2020 plan currently in place, a new performing arts center is not the only change that will take place at the Westside Campus. In the plan, the school would add new classroom buildings, as well as additions to the current classroom building and the O’Neill Center. There will be a new parking garage added to Westside. The parking area on University Boulevard, in the plan, would be cut out in order to make way for new buildings.

“The roadway would be moved if we carried out the plan,” said Paul Reis, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

The Midtown Campus would acquire a new parking garage and residence hall near the Science Building, plus an addition to the student center, according to the master plan.

With the current economy and the school’s strict budget, WestConn is open to changing the master plan in order to accommodate developments. Since the number of incoming residents on Westside has actually dropped this year, Reis explained that the idea of a new residence hall on Westside could be reconsidered.

“We will have to take a breath as a community and look at this perceptively,” said Reis.

 

 

The Echo is the student-run publication of Western Connecticut State University whose aim is to inform and enlighten the university community. The Echo’s goal is to establish and maintain an atmosphere of free and responsible journalism in an engaging and entertaining format. Anything published in The Echo in no way represents the opinion of the university or it’s faculty and administration.

 


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