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The windowless warehouse currently housing Gateway Community College’s Long Wharf campus will soon be but a badly-lit memory. Gateway, which is planning to leave Long Wharf for New Haven’s downtown, is slated to play a central role in revitalizing the area — despite some community concerns at how successfully the downtown area can accommodate the campus.

The current plan to demolish the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum and redevelop the city’s downtown will enable Gateway’s 11,000 students — currently split between campuses in Long Wharf and North Haven — to move into a newly constructed building on the site of the former Macy’s and Malley’s department stores, just a few blocks from Old Campus. If city aldermen approve the plan in a vote on Feb. 22, the $140 million construction project, funded by the state, will be finished by autumn 2010, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Works said.

Deirdre Loftus, an active member of Gateway’s student government, said the proposal to consolidate the campuses coincides with a surge of student activity, with many students lobbying for the proposed move. Most notably, she said, the Gateway president’s office worked to organize lobbying trips so students could speak to the state representatives in Hartford about the proposal to move Gateway.

“The student body has really worked very, very hard in lobbying,” said Loftus, who estimated that 200 students went to Hartford on a recent trip. “It’s really been a huge effort among faculty and staff and students alike.”

Gateway’s current facilities were not intended to become colleges: the North Haven campus is an old middle school, and the Long Wharf facility, where most classes are held, was built originally as a garage for a nearby construction company. Since the college moved into Long Wharf in 1976, its student body has grown, making office space for professors tight, and forcing classrooms to be divided in sections by temporary partitions.

The haphazard campus organization is particularly inconvenient, as a high proportion of students balance classes with work and families, said Bill Fuentes, president of Phi Theta Kappa, Gateway’s honor society. Fuentes himself balances his Gateway class work with raising his family and holding a job in the construction industry.

“The typical student is a working adult, whether they work full-time or part-time,” Fuentes said. “Most of the students that are at the school now have no idea what a real functioning campus can be.”

Some, however, question the plan to move Gateway’s campus downtown, both because of the parking crunch Gateway’s 11,000 students will create and because its campus, like Yale’s, will be exempt from paying city taxes.

Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said any plan to move Gateway downtown must integrate retail into the design in order to stabilize the city’s tax base.

“We very much need really extensive retail development downtown, and there is a market for it,” Farwell said.

The city defends giving up land to build Gateway’s new campus, noting that the state will give the city money in place of lost taxes. Moreover, the city maintains it is improbable they could have developed retail there that would have earned more in taxes.

“Although the community college is tax-exempt, the city is entitled to payment by the state in lieu of taxes,” New Haven Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 said. “Conceivably, we could put something else there that would bring in more tax revenue, but in reality, the state will actually pay us more than some of the most densely developed areas in New Haven receive in taxes right now, such as the adjacent block where Chapel Square Mall is located.”

Moreover, students who attend Gateway will be spending money in the downtown area, said Evelyn Gard, Gateway’s public relations director, who acknowledged concerns regarding taxes and parking must be addressed. She said the college is willing to establish retail space within the new building.

“We’re willing to create retail space,” Gard said. “How do you argue with 11,000 consumers who are going to be buying things while they’re here?”

Moving Gateway to a site across the street from the Chapel Square Mall also brings its campus much closer to Yale, with whom it already has a few formal and informal ties.

Since 1996, said Stephen Lassonde, dean of Calhoun College and lecturer in history, the course “New Haven and the Problem of Change in the American City” has been offered every other year to students from Yale and Gateway, as well as Albertus Magnus and Quinnipiac. The course’s lectures are given to all the students, who then attend sections held on their individual campuses. Lassonde team-teaches the course along with Yale Urban Academic Initiatives Director Cynthia Farrar, Yale Urban Design Workshop Director Douglas Rae, and Alan Plattus, a professor at the School of Management.

“The idea was to be as inclusive as possible,” Lassonde said.

Farrar said although the course continues to be a success, it is unlikely that its model will be adopted by many other professors.

“It was very exciting to have a broader group of students, all of whom had a connection to New Haven in the room thinking about the challenges facing New Haven,” Farrar said. “[But] it’s unlikely that there will be a larger number of courses that will be open to them.”

According to Gard, although such interaction between the colleges is important, it is not a primary consideration in making the move.

“[Students] are extremely excited,” Gard said. “They want to be where everything is going on. They’re looking forward to having windows.”
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