Gateway’s move gets mixed student reviews

To some around New Haven, “Gateway” is the buzzword for an ambitious redevelopment of New Haven’s urban core that will bring Gateway Community College into a new state-of-the-art campus downtown and will trigger the next phase of the Elm City’s urban renaissance.

But for the more than 9,000 students who make the daily commute to Gateway Community College’s current campus on Long Wharf, “Gateway” means a drab shoebox-like building next to Interstate 95 with low ceilings, plenty of artificial lighting and virtually no windows.

Gateway administrators point to their cramped, largely windowless quarters as one of the key reasons why the community college needs a new downtown campus — the centerpiece of a $230 million project to boost the revitalization of New Haven’s downtown. The New Haven Veterans’ Coliseum will be demolished to make way for Gateway’s new $140 million campus and a host of other retail and residential projects. The move downtown, administrators said, will allow Gateway to become a full participant in the academic, cultural and professional life of the city. But while many students at the community college said the relocation will enhance the quality of education and student life, others said they are worried Gateway’s student population will be unable to fit in with New Haven’s Yale-dominated downtown.

Gateway President Dorsey Kendrick said the campus has reached its full capacity and cannot accommodate more students until the college moves into a new downtown campus. Critics of the Gateway Project have said putting a commuter college downtown rather than renovating Gateway’s existing campus is a waste of space, but Kendrick said expanding the current site is impossible as the college is perched on a watertable.

Kendrick said the lack of windows is symbolic of the need to abandon the current building — which currently sits on a landfill and is already filled to capacity.

“Look at my office — do you see any windows?” she said. “Our students deserve what [Yale] students have.”

Gateway currently serves over 9,000 students, 47 percent of whom are New Haven residents. The college has special programs in nursing and automotive technology, as well as the usual arts and science courses found at community colleges. Kendrick said the new downtown campus — which will occupy two blocks on the former sites of the Macy’s and Malley’s department stores — will allow them to serve more students and to provide an opportunity to build a state-of-the-art facility. She said Gateway will also introduce a collection of new improvements, such as an Internet cafe that will be open to the public, a greatly-expanded art gallery, a larger computer lab and laboratories for science and mathematics.

Integrating the college into the downtown area will also broaden cultural opportunities for Gateway students, Kendrick said.

“It’s about understanding the culture of New Haven,” she said. “It’s about bringing the community in, about opening the world up to the college and the college up to the world.”

New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said Gateway plays a critical role in adapting the city’s and state’s workforce, which historically was primarily employed in manufacturing, to the predominantly service-based economy that now exists. He said he thinks the move downtown will create closer ties between the community college and local businesses and will offer new students access to the cultural, commercial and professional resources the city’s downtown offers.

“Gateway is the leading edge of education right now for people here in the state of Connecticut who are looking to gain skills and retrain, because it is very aggressive in seeking out what the changing industries are in the state,” Bialecki said. “What is really good is the connection [with downtown] willl put students in real-life situations, whether they are doing internships or studying theater or need to go to the art gallery: The new campus is so well positioned.”

Some critics of the plan have warned that thousands of cars going to the new campus will create gridlock on downtown streets. Kendrick said the college is planning to build its own parking garage, but she did not say exactly how the potential traffic problem would be solved. But she mentioned that carpooling and off-site parking will be encouraged.

But some students said a having a new campus may not be as ideal as administrators and city officials have made it out to be.

Jasmine Lewis, a Gateway student sitting in the student lounge Monday, said having a new campus so close to the downtown shopping district may distract students from their coursework.

“Everything is right there,” said Gateway student Leslie Collins, sitting next to Lewis. “The sneakers and the nail salons … I’d go and get my eyebrows done.”

Asked if the current location had its own distractions, Tiffany Woods laughed.

“Not in a class with no windows,” she said.

Lewis also said she is concerned that the downtown population, including Yale students, will not be receptive to the influx of new students.

“Yale is a community in its own,” she said. “The only way to integrate the two is if the people there have a character change.”

Kendrick said the University can help Gateway by letting the community college use some of its resources and by sending students to tutor their peers at Gateway.

In the library, Santina, a Gateway student who declined to give her last name, said no matter what happens, Gateway will see at least one major improvement.

“Even prisoners have windows,” she said. “Now we’re supposed to get lots of windows.”

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