A Christmas tree lighting became the first “official” ceremony following the agreement of Sacred Heart University to purchase the former 66-acre General Electric global headquarters in Fairfield. The purchase will support the university’s ongoing strategic expansion and development as a leading institution of higher education.
“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, healthcare and the community. It’s a oncein-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.”
Dr. Petillo noted that 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. SHU plans to use the property as an innovation campus, to expand its new School of Computing, which is focused 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 will also move certain elements of its Jack Welch College of Business to the new campus, including its new hospitality management program that will make use of facilities both at the GE site and SHU’s recently acquired Great River Golf Club in Milford.
The university also plans to move its College of Education art and design program and the university’s business office to the site, eliminating the need to rent space in Trumbull. Future plans could include a performing arts space/recital hall, a swimming pool and 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 the ability of the university to raise the funds needed for these projects. SHU officials are also hoping the purchase will allow the university to develop partnerships with local healthcare providers, providing clinical opportunities for students in its Colleges of Health Professions and Nursing. These partnerships could also mean more healthcare options for area residents.
Michael Kinney, senior vice president for finance and administration at SHU, notes that for $31.5M—the price of an average-sized academic building—SHU will acquire a world-class corporate headquarters, approximately 66 acres, about 550,000 square feet for current and future use, 800 above/underground parking spaces and enough space to meet needs for the foreseeable future. The purchase of this parcel will bring the total acreage of Sacred Heart’s campus to nearly 200 acres, not including the 150-acre Great River Golf Club purchased last year.
The surrounding community will also benefit from this purchase. “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 50-60 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 $27-33 million annually.” With the purchase by SHU, a nonprofit entity, Fairfield will also receive payments from the state’s PILOT program.
“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. “This purchase 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.”