SHU proposes larger on-campus quarters for public radio, public safety staffs

Sacred Heart University's plan to build a three-story home for its radio station and public safety department encountered no opposition at a Tuesday public hearing of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

The TPZ closed the hearing in McKinley School after about 45 minutes, but did not vote on the application. The TPZ has 65 days to make a decision.

Manny Silva, a Fairfield engineer retained by SHU, said construction of the 20,000-square-foot building on the southeastern corner of the university's 56-acre campus would cost about $10 million and is expected to be finished by September 2015.

The proposed building, nearly 34 feet tall, would be on about a half-acre where the university's health and wellness center was located before it moved across Park Avenue, said William Fitzpatrick, SHU's lawyer. The vacant 2,520-square-foot building that formerly housed the health and wellness center would be demolished and replaced by a building that has SHU's public safety department on the ground floor and WSHU, the university's radio station, on the upper two floors, Fitzpatrick said.

The building that now houses WSHU, which is on the other side of campus, would be demolished and replaced with 40 parking spaces, Fitzpatrick said.

WSHU, 91.1 on the FM dial, reaches listeners in Fairfield and New Haven counties, as well as Suffolk County in New York, and is a member of National Public Radio, Fitzpatrick said. He said WSHU is the 34th most popular NPR station out of about 340 nationwide. "This building will provide needed space for WSHU to continue its valuable work," he said. Fitzpatrick said about 10 radio station employees who now work in Trumbull would be able to work on SHU's campus if the building is built.

SHU's Department of Public Safety is now housed in the university's academic building and needs more room, Fitzpatrick said. Silva said the department would move from "a corner" of the academic building. "They're kind of cramped right now," he said.

The radio station has 25 to 27 employees and the public safety department has a total of 51 employees who work in three shifts, Fitzpatrick said. "Our estimate is that on campus, in the building at any one time, 40 people, between public safety and WSHU," he said in response to a question from TPZ member Meg Francis about how many employees would work in the building.

The proposed building would have a steel frame and brick veneer. It would be built on "a very steep slope," which allows an exterior entrance to the public safety department on the ground floor and exterior entrance to the radio station on the second floor, said Jacob Higginbottom, SHU's Boston architect. The third floor would be accessed by stairs and an elevator, Higginbottom said.

Space for the public safety department would mostly consist of offices, conference rooms, a command center, kitchen, storage room for bikes used by public safety officers, video and interview rooms, and a room for Fairfield police. The second floor would mostly have broadcast studios, engineering spaces, work stations for news media and a community room, Higginbottom said. The third floor would have office space, restrooms and work stations, he said.

The proposed building would have "a full 24/7 emergency backup as both the radio station and public safety require that," Higginbottom said.

Fitzpatrick said the proposed building complies with town zoning regulations and that its impact on traffic would be minimal since the radio station and public safety offices already are located on campus.