Sacred Heart renovations at former GE headquarters underway

After surprising almost everyone with its 2016 purchase of the former General Electric headquarters, Sacred Heart University’s plans for the campus are starting to manifest.

Development of the 66-acre property at 3135 Easton Turnpike is ongoing as officials look to turn the global conglomerate’s former space into what officials are calling the “innovation campus.”

“The west campus will be an interdisciplinary approach with two colleges and certainly one school at this point,” said Sacred Heart president John Petillo.

After GE left Fairfield for Boston in 2016, Sacred Heart purchased the three-building campus for $31.5 million in a deal that Petillo said was unexpected by many in the administration

After passing on bidding the first time around, Petillo said SHU decided to make an offer for the campus along with other potential buyers, and came out on top.

“We woke up really quick, and we said we have to get our act together with what we are going to do there,” he added.

Fairfield University, in partnership with the locally based Kleban Properties, had publicly expressed interest in the site.

With space on Sacred Heart’s main campus running low and a desire to expand programming, Petillo said the acquisition of the west campus created an opportunity for the university to do that and more for several departments.

The ex-GE campus features two office buildings and a hotel space. All three are slated for redevelopment and renovation and will accommodate SHU’s schools of education, hospitality, business and computing — which covers computer science and engineering, according to Michael Kinney, senior vice president for finance and administration for the university,

The larger of the two office buildings, known as the west building, is already undergoing renovations, that Kinney expects it to be fnished in the coming months.

A portion of the first floor has been demolished and remade to house 14 state-of-the-art classrooms with new technology and six computer rooms and specialty classrooms.

Kinney said the other half of the first floor will be redeveloped into a maker space for engineering students within the next two months. The space will provide 3D printers and other technology for their use.

“This will be as sophisticated and as state of the art as you can (get). That’s what we will be building,” he said.

The west building will also house classrooms for the education department, with the top floor to serve as office space for university staff.

Although development for the campus’ second office building has not begun, Kinney said it will house classrooms and other facilities for the Jack Welch College of Business and will feature a finance lab and two artificial intelligence facilities.

The school will also have a 10,000-square-foot business incubator space housed in the west building.

Sacred Heart’s new hospitality and management program, which started this year with 18 students, is expected to use the hotel space on the campus. Petillo said the program will bring in roughly 50 freshmen students this fall.

Students will also use SHU’s golf course in Milford.

Within the next two years, Kinney said the university expects to have roughly 2,000 students roaming the campus, along with faculty and staff. While the total cost of renovations to the campus has not been established, he expects half of the campus to be in use by September 2019.

“The purpose is to bring them all together so they can have an interdisciplinary approach.”

jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com