Sacred Heart University has entered an agreement with General Electric to purchase the latter’s 66-acre, former global headquarters, which is less than a mile from SHU’s main campus.
“This is a transformational moment in the history of Sacred Heart University,” said SHU President John J. Petillo. “With this property, SHU has a unique opportunity to contribute to education, research, health care and the community. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, and it also reflects our long-standing relationship with GE that includes former GE CEO Jack Welch, for whom our College of Business is named.”
Petillo noted the purchase is another step in SHU’s recent and rapid growth. “Our strategic plan calls for thoughtful expansion of our campus footprint when opportunities arise that make solid business sense and strengthen the institution and its future,” he said. “This purchase will support our desire to offer new and innovative programming and expand our graduate offerings. Most importantly, it will serve to further enhance Sacred Heart University’s overall standing and competitiveness among national universities.
“It will benefit future students of Sacred Heart with added programs, new facilities and exciting opportunities,” Petillo said. “It will provide area residents and businesses with new facilities to use, increased consumer spending and additional jobs, as well as incubator space that can develop much-needed economic opportunities for the area that are tied to a top-notch, educational institution.”
Sacred Heart plans to use the property as an innovation campus, to expand its new School of Computing—which focuses on computer engineering, computer gaming and cybersecurity—and to develop programs in STEM fields, such as health and life sciences, science and technology. The University also will move certain elements of its Jack Welch College of Business to the new campus, including its new hospitality management program, which will make use of facilities both at the GE site and at the Great River Golf Club in Milford, which SHU acquired last year.
In addition, the University plans to move its Farrington College of Education, Art & Design program and business offices to the Fairfield site, eliminating the need to continue renting space in Trumbull. Future plans could include a performing arts space/recital hall, a swimming pool, running trails and incubator space that would allow students, in conjunction with investors and area businesses, to develop their creative ideas for new products and programs.
All plans are contingent on approval by the Town of Fairfield and on the University’s ability to fund these projects.
Sacred Heart officials also hope the purchase will allow the University to develop partnerships with local health-care providers, providing clinical opportunities for students in its colleges of Health Professions and Nursing. Such partnerships could mean more health-care options for area residents.
Michael Kinney, senior vice president for Finance and Administration at SHU, notes that for $31.5 million—the price of construction for an average-sized, academic building—the University will acquire a world-class corporate headquarters, approximately 66 acres, about 550,000 square feet of building space for current and future use, 800 above/underground parking spaces and enough space to meet needs for the foreseeable future.
The purchase of GE’s parcel will bring the total size of Sacred Heart’s campus to nearly 200 acres, not including the 150-acre Great River Golf Club.
“This purchase addresses our classroom and parking needs and will provide acreage for all master-plan future development,” Kinney stated. “That said, this is still a significant purchase for us. However, it was impossible for us not to take advantage of this opportunity—especially for land so close to our main campus.”
The surrounding community also will benefit from this purchase, he said. “The growth we will experience as a result of this purchase will increase consumer spending in the community by Sacred Heart students and parents—a number that already stands at close to $56 million in the state,” said Kinney. “In addition, programs developed by SHU in the next four years could add 450 students and 50 to 60 new faculty and staff jobs. New direct and indirect spending driven by operational and capital spending by the University, its employees, new students and their families and visitors would be a minimum of $27 million to $33 million annually.”
With the purchase by SHU, a nonprofit entity, Fairfield will receive funds from the state’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program.
Accompanying SHU’s announcement, a GE representative expressed the corporation’s approval of the arrangement. “We are pleased to sell our property to a world-class local university and are happy that the campus will continue to be used for learning and innovation, two hallmarks of both GE and Sacred Heart,” said Harri Singh, GE global properties leader.