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Turning a Corner: Latest Goodwin College Construction Means Improved River Access

When Goodwin College moved its campus from its previous location on Burnside Avenue to its current riverfront location in 2009, it was clear that there was much work to be done, both in building a modern campus that served area students and in reuniting East Hartford residents with the Connecticut River. For decades, the community had been cut off by oil tank farms that prevented access and contaminated the rich land that had once served as farms and tobacco fields. Most of the properties along Riverside Drive were abandoned and tax delinquent. In addition, the swath cut into the land by Route 2 meant that East Hartford might as well have been located in the middle of a desert.

Fast forward to 2015. In the intervening six years, and thanks to a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration matched at 50% by the College and the town, the land had been environmentally reclaimed and amazingly transformed. Riverside Drive now comprised a six-story college academic building, a sustainability-themed magnet school, several support buildings, and acres of accessible riverfront.

Next to be addressed was the condition of Riverside Drive itself. “From the time we began planning the improvements, an integral part of the vision was to give our neighbors better access to the Connecticut River, and to accomplish that in a way that added no financial responsibility to the town,” said Goodwin College president Mark Scheinberg.

Repaving and new lighting running the entire length of the road improved the overall safety and appearance. Goodwin contributed to the cost of the project and coordinated efforts with external stakeholders to fund the remainder. By the end of this phase of construction, it was a smooth ride from the Route 2 Riverside Drive exit to the far end of the Goodwin campus.

Coming to the River from Main Street was not as easy, however. One area that still remained a critical issue was the intersection of Ensign Street, which runs through a residential neighborhood beginning at Main Street, and Riverside Drive. The Route 2 underpass opening onto Riverside was dark with virtually no sidewalks or level surface, making access difficult — and dangerous — especially for foot traffic.

“Local residents as well as many out-of-area drivers use that intersection to get to the River, the College, Connecticut River Academy, Trinity College Boathouse, and the Canoe Club,” said Bryant Harrell, Vice President for Facilities and Information Technology. “It was unsettling for people to walk through that underpass, and without sidewalks the old configuration prevented many members of the community from having any access to the River.”

In June of this year, Goodwin began work in earnest on re-envisioning the intersection. More than 171 feet of reinforced concrete pipes were installed to create a new, efficient drainage system. Regulation sidewalks and ADA-compliant “aprons” that open onto crosswalks improve accessibility for everyone, including those with mobility challenges. Emergency blue light phones and towers have been installed for anyone needing immediate access to law enforcement. Lighting beneath the Route 2 underpass has been upgraded to energy-efficient LED options. New landscaping — including trees, shrubbery, attractive stamped concrete, and planting walls — create a welcoming feeling as visitors approach the water.

In keeping with the College’s original intent, the Riverside/Ensign reconstruction project was accomplished at no cost to the town. “About $100K had gone into repaving the road down to Willow Street,” added Harrell. “With permitting fees and the cost of police protection and traffic direction picked up by Goodwin, this new phase will end up at $300K by the time we finish up in July.”

The benefits to the community are well worth the investment, as Scheinberg observes: “Without the Connecticut River, there would be no East Hartford. And without East Hartford, there would be no Goodwin College. Bringing communities together is at the heart of who we are and why we’re here.”