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Health Center Today, March 16, 2011

Laying the Groundwork

By Noreen Kirk

Two men at the O'Meara farm prior to the construction of the UConn Health Center

The O’Meara farm was selected as the building site for the Health Center in 1962.

This story is the second of a multi-part series on the history of the Health Center. The entire series can be read at the Health Center’s 50th Anniversary website.

One of the first decisions leaders had to make was where to locate the schools. Location became a contentious issue, with the legislation calling for a site in the capital area, while existing hospitals and their respective allies voiced concern that proximity to the schools would give one institution an unfair advantage over the others. In July 1962, a commission appointed by the legislature recommended that the state purchase property in a neutral location: the 106-acre site in Farmington known as the O’Meara farm.

The next step was to assemble a core planning group that would recruit department chairs and faculty. In May 1963, the University named Dr. Lyman Stowe the dean of the School of Medicine and Dr. Lewis Fox the dean of the School of Dental Medicine. Stowe recruited Drs. John Patterson and William Fleeson to aid in planning the medical school, and Fox brought on board Drs. Charles Jerge and Sherwin Cooperstein to make up the dental school planning group. The groups developed detailed academic and clinical plans for their respective schools and presented them to the board of trustees in November 1963.

The original plans called for a 400-bed university hospital. But the project experienced significant construction problems and cost overruns. These and other factors forced University President Homer Babbidge to scale back the hospital to only 200 beds, with plans providing for a later expansion to 400. It was a decision that would have significant, long-lasting implications for the Health Center, hampering its ability to generate revenue sufficient to cover fixed costs.

Two men walking down a dirt road toward the construction site

A visit to the Health Center construction site.

In August 1964, the Philadelphia architectural firm of Vincent Kling and Associates was selected to design the new structure, and plans for the physical plant moved forward.

Stowe died unexpectedly in 1965, and Dr. Patterson became dean of the medical school, a position he was to hold until becoming vice president for health affairs in 1971.

Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on May 17, 1966, and the deans set about recruiting faculty in earnest to prepare for the first classes, which were to enter in the fall of 1968. In 1966, the medical school had six department heads and 11 full-time faculty. By 1968, it had 11 department heads and 58 faculty. By 1971, these figures would reach 16 heads and 110 faculty members.

Governor Dempsey at the groundbreaking ceremony

Governor Dempsey at the Health Center's groundbreaking ceremony.

The Health Center site during the early stages of construction

The Health Center site during the early stages of construction.