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New Children’s Museum Wants to Relocate to UConn West Hartford Campus

View of one of the proposed options for The New Children's Museum building on the UConn West Hartford property. Image courtesy of The New Children's Museum
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The New Children’s Museum will hold an information session on Jan. 19 where it will detail its plans, but before anything happens the Town of West Hartford has to decide whether or not to purchase the property.

View of one of the proposed options for The New Children's Museum building on the UConn West Hartford property. Image courtesy of The New Children's Museum

View of one of the proposed options for The New Children’s Museum building on the UConn West Hartford property. Image courtesy of The New Children’s Museum

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council will decide on Jan. 12, 2016 whether or not to allow Town Manager Ron Van Winkle to enter into discussion with the University of Connecticut regarding purchase of the West Hartford property that will be vacated when in 2017 when the Greater Hartford Campus moves to downtown Hartford, and one organization is already outlining its proposed plans for a move to the site.

On Dec. 23, 2015, The New Children’s Museum issued a press release unveiling its proposed plans to relocate from its current site at 950 Trout Brook Dr. to the UConn West Hartford campus, at the corner of Trout Brook Drive and Asylum Avenue, in 2017.

The Museum will hold a presentation and public discussion about its plans on Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 6 – 8 p.m., at the West Hartford Senior Center in Bishops Corner. According to a news release, “The proposed plans will focus on creating a family-friendly cultural campus, driving local economic development, and preserving green space.”

Both West Hartford Director of Community Services Mark McGovern and Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said that the discussion is somewhat preliminary, since Town doesn’t even own the property yet, and no decisions have yet been made about its use, should West Hartford decide to purchase it from UConn.

The property is currently zoned for single-family residential use, with a special use permit in place that allows a school on the property. A significant portion of the 58 acres is wetlands.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where we can express our opinion because we don’t control the property,” McGovern said. He said that while he was aware that The New Children’s Museum has been talking about these plans for a while, the Town hasn’t even decided whether or not it will purchase the property. McGovern said he expects the Town Council will authorize Van Winkle to enter into discussion about the purchase when it votes on Jan. 12, but that is just the first step in the process.

Also unclear, McGovern said, is who would be expected to pay for the renovation of an existing building or construction of a new building for The New Children’s Museum.

Van Winkle said that he anticipates the proposed project could cost as much as $15-$25 million. “We don’t have that money,” he said, and neither he nor McGovern believe that the Museum has yet raised significant funds for the relocation.

New Children’s Museum Interim Executive Director Michael J. Werle will discuss the details and drawings of the organization’s concepts for the campus at the public meeting, and the presentation will also include a question and answer period. One concept is for a renovation of an existing building, while another is for a completely new structure. Werle has already discussed an overview of the plans with West Hartford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Lerner, and a taped interview of that discussion can be seen on WHC-TV (Channel 5) at 9 p.m. on Jan. 6, 13, and 20.

The New Children’s Museum currently leases its space from Kingswood Oxford School, and that lease is set to expire on June 30, 2017. UConn has already started construction work that includes a five-story addition to and renovation of the former Hartford Times building, and according to “UConn Today” plans to have the downtown Hartford campus ready when classes begin in the fall of 2017.

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Proposed entrance to The New Children's Museum building on the UConn West Hartford campus. Image courtesy of The New Children's Museum

Proposed entrance to The New Children’s Museum building on the UConn West Hartford campus. Image courtesy of The New Children’s Museum

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