Hartford, Connecticut, July 7, 2017 – Trinity College is on its way toward establishing a downtown Hartford presence. Construction is under way at 10 Constitution Plaza, where the College plans to open, by December 2017, the first of its two Constitution Plaza spaces. In doing so, Trinity will join a growing presence of higher education institutions with students, faculty, and staff who have become part of the central business district community, helping Hartford evolve into a true “college town.”
Trinity’s Constitution Plaza Planning Committee, a multi-constituency group co-chaired by Sue Aber, vice president for information services and chief information officer, and Stefanie Chambers, professor of political science, has been working since fall 2016 to guide the design process leading to the launch of the downtown space at 10 Constitution Plaza and the third floor of One Constitution Plaza, an adjacent office tower. This summer, the focus is on transforming the 10 Constitution Plaza space, which was previously home to a golf lifestyle cable television network. The planning committee has been working closely with JCJ Architecture and Enterprise Builders to design space that will be easy to modify as different programs take shape; flexible office and meeting space and a makerspace are essential aspects of the plan. Technology that is adaptable and portable and IdeaPaint, transforming a wall into a dry-erase canvas, have been incorporated into the design.
A signature program for 10 Constitution Plaza will be the Liberal Arts Action Lab (LAAL), which will bring together faculty and students from Trinity and Capital Community College to collaborate in researching and addressing local challenges, using a liberal arts lens to solve real-world problems. A LAAL Programming/Planning Committee, chaired by Trinity College Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Cresswell, has been working concurrently with the Constitution Plaza Planning Committee. The programming committee’s charge is to develop a program that will mobilize liberal arts-based skills and knowledge about Hartford to drive social innovation and deepen civic engagement.
Describing how the LAAL will work, Cresswell said, “At the outset, there will be 10 Trinity students and 10 Capital Community College students, broken up into groups of the appropriate size for the specific problems to be addressed. The students will receive academic credit, and it’s possible they’ll work within themes – for example, we might look at the social determinants of health in the city.”
Cresswell said that LAAL teams will partner with neighborhood organizations, city government, small businesses, faculty members already engaged in community research, and others to define and prioritize the issues and challenges to be tackled. A guiding principle will be that true civic engagement means recognizing that the LAAL teams and community partners possess a range of skills, knowledge, and expertise; by working together, they will greatly enhance opportunities to address significant challenges.
“People often make the mistake of drawing strict boundaries between liberal arts education and applied knowledge,” said Cresswell. “The classical origin of liberal arts education in ancient Athens as education for free people of the city – or citizens – was always about the skills needed to operate as citizens. In ancient Greece, it may have been to prepare individuals to serve in the military or on a jury. Today, it means working on sticky real-world problems, such as persistent inequality or climate change. The Liberal Arts Action Lab will help Trinity to lead the way in reconnecting liberal arts to real-world problems, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Cresswell noted that Capital Community College is an ideal partner for this project. Since its move to Main Street in 2002, Capital has steadily increased its footprint in Hartford communities through a variety of programs, including social work service learning projects, nursing and health career clinical placements in hospitals, and business apprenticeships with area corporations. Capital will launch its Theatre Arts Program this fall, with internships and courses taught by professionals from Hartford theaters, including Hartford Stage.
“This partnership with Trinity College is a natural continuation of Capital’s place-based education initiatives that make Hartford an extension of our campus,” said Jeff Partridge, chair of humanities and director of the Hartford Heritage Project, a place-based program that engages more than 2,000 students a year in theater and museum events through the curriculum. “Problem-solving with community members creates an invaluable platform for learning that benefits numerous stakeholders. The students gain real-world experience while learning and applying course material. The community gains from the skills and enthusiasm of students and the faculty who guide them. And Hartford gains as students become invested in its future. We are excited to work with Trinity College to develop the action lab.”
Cresswell said, “The LAAL teams will pursue a variety of projects using skills from across the liberal arts; these will include social science-based projects, but they also may do environment-related work with a scientific approach or creative work in collaboration with city arts organizations.”
Cresswell announced recently that the inaugural faculty director of the LAAL will be Jack Dougherty, professor of educational studies. A full-time director of the LAAL, Megan Brown, will begin in August; she will join Trinity from the University of Washington, where she has undertaken a doctorate in geography.
Space at 10 Constitution Plaza also will serve as a base for Trinity students engaged in internships downtown and may be used during the orientation program for J-Starts, a new cohort of incoming first-year students who will begin their Trinity studies in January. Additional Trinity programs anticipated to use space at 10 Constitution Plaza are entrepreneurial track programs, as well as events hosted by the College’s Center for Caribbean Studies. Graduate studies and certificate programs are anticipated to be located in the One Constitution Plaza space. Trinity plans to move forward with plans for occupying the third floor of One Constitution Plaza approximately one year after its 10 Constitution Plaza space opens.
The establishment of a campus in downtown Hartford has been a Trinity goal for several years. A significant step came in 2014, when the College purchased 200 Constitution Plaza, the former Travelers Education Center, for $2.1 million. As Trinity began developing plans for use of the building – which would have meant taking on the responsibility of becoming a landlord since the building had more square footage than Trinity could use on its own – the College received offers from potential buyers interested in purchasing the building. In 2016, Trinity struck a deal with LHR Group and BHN Properties to sell 200 Constitution Plaza and lease back a total of about 21,000 square feet of space at 10 Constitution Plaza, a freestanding, low-rise building, and the third floor of One Constitution Plaza.