Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic downturn hits Wesleyan University

Wesleyan’s plans for the most significant new building on campus since the construction of the Center for the Arts in the 1950s were put on hold last week, a victim of the economic turmoil. The building is to house classrooms, laboratories and offices for the Molecular and Life Sciences, replacing two aged buildings between Church Street and Lawn Avenue, at the southern end of campus. This signature building will provide the balancing counterweight to Wesleyan’s renowned Center for the Arts, framing the campus. Plans are for a 226,000 square foot building to be built at a cost of $160M (about 25% larger and 75% more expensive than Middletown’s new high school). It is a very complex project; construction, moving of research and teaching facilities and staff, and subsequent demolition of the old buildings will require 5 years to complete. Currently, the Design Development is nearly complete, but it appears that ground breaking will be delayed by at least 5 years from the original construction start date of next year.

The Wesleyan Argus, the student newspaper, reported today that in an October 5th meeting with the Wesleyan Students Association, Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, emphasized that in this economic downturn, fiscal responsibility was imperative. The current recession has eroded the value of the endowment and hampered fundraising efforts. Wesleyan simply does not have the financial resources necessary for such a large construction project.

He and other administrators emphasized that Wesleyan remains committed to recruiting science students and providing them with the best possible resources. Roth told me, “The university is committed to investing in the sciences, but the upheaval in the financial markets requires us to revisit our original plans.” During the next month, there will be discussions between Roth, administrators, faculty, students, and trustees regarding the future of this new science building.

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