Downtown Gateway campus plans approved

Downtown New Haven may soon host another post-secondary educational institution.

Plans for a downtown campus for Gateway Community College were approved Monday by the state board of trustees for community-technical colleges. But the board’s action is only the first step in what may prove to be a struggle to obtain funding for the ambitious project.

Gateway currently maintains two campuses, one in North Haven and the other in New Haven’s Long Wharf. But over the last 10 years, the number of students attending the North Haven campus decreased while the number of students attending the Long Wharf campus increased.

“We now have about 75 percent at Long Wharf and 25 percent at North Haven,” said Evelyn Cernadas, Gateway’s director of public information and marketing.

This decrease in North Haven enrollment, coupled with the financial strain of recent budget cuts from the state, reduced the cost-effectiveness of running two campuses, Cernadas said.

The search for a location to consolidate the campuses began in earnest three years ago when Dorsey Kendrick became president of the college. The college considered two other plans in addition to the downtown proposal. One called-for expansion of the current Long Wharf campus at 60 Sargent Dr. for $115 million and the other called for construction of an entirely new campus there for $141 million. The downtown campus proposed for the old Macy’s and Malley’s sites on Church Street is expected to cost $139.4 million.

Last week, board chairman Larry Zollo said the central obstacle to the downtown plan is financing.

“That’s going to be the big hurdle — the money,” Kendrick said moments after the board’s vote.

The facilities committee tabled its vote last week to allow input from Gateway’s internal site committee, composed of faculty and administrators, which voted Thursday in favor of the downtown plan.

“The process for deciding on a location for the new, consolidated campus was long and very time consuming,” Cernadas said. “The community college’s budget and facilities committee, along with an advisory committee made up of Gateway employees, conducted extensive research to assess the needs of the college and its students.”

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. lent his support by initiating discussion between Kendrick and Yale President Richard Levin. These discussions resulted in support for Gateway’s move to the downtown location and a pledge from the mayor to donate the land for the new campus. Now, the major challenge will be the additional funding required to realize the project.

Gateway plans to open the doors to its new campus in about five years. Cernadas said the college relies heavily on the support of the community, legislators and businesses because it will take a lot to see the project to completion.

“New Haven deserves a world-class community college,” said Henry Fernandez, the city’s economic development administrator.

When this project is complete, there will be a new Gateway Community College campus on Chapel Street in New Haven. Whether the college will continue to offer satellite programs will depend on the needs of the community at the time of the move.

“We will continue to serve the community at Long Wharf and North Haven for at least the next few years,” Cernadas said.

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