Update: There’s Hope for the Burn Rooms

Samantha Mathewson

A horrible windstorm dislocated the foundation of the Echlin Fire Science Barn this past winter, leaving it to a condemned fate.

The original Echlin Barn was recently torn down so that construction on a new academic building could begin. (Photo provided by Samantha Mathewson)

The “red barn,” located on Prudden Street, north of Echlin Hall, faced structural damage and started to sway more than one foot on both sides after a storm.

The burn rooms, an essential component of the previous barn and Fire Science program at the University of New Haven, were temporarily moved to A&E Glass. This was to ensure they were kept safe and able to be used this semester. They will be moved back when the new building is built.

UNH recently received site plan approval from the City of West Haven’s Planning and Zoning Commission to construct a new academic building on the site of the “red barn.”

“Instead of putting money into an old building, we can build new, and comply with new building codes and the ADA,” said Louis C. Annino Jr., Associate Vice President for Facilities for the UNH.

Construction began Tuesday, April 30, with removal of the barn. The new, one story building will be approximately 5,000 square feet and will house two academic classrooms that will seat 30-40 students, a large computer lab, as well as the three burn rooms. The computer lab will house a new program, “Math Zone,” that the university is bringing to its campus this fall.

Annino explained that this decision was finally able to be made after capital planning, which is the process of budgeting resources for the future. The university’s investment decisions were made based on the needs of the campus. “We had the space and we needed the barn replaced, so it was an opportunity to turn something bad into something good,” said Annino. “We are now able to fix the barn and house the burn rooms on campus again, in addition to the Math Zone program.”

For Fire Science and Arson Investigation professor Bruce Varga, teaching got a little bit more difficult when the barn could no longer be used. Previously having the barn right behind Echlin, it was not what he was used to, and he said that he felt like the walk or car ride four blocks to A&E Glass was a little time consuming. “Most of the students simply walked to A&E Glass for lab. The benefit to having the rooms in the new location was heat and a bathroom, things that were not available in the barn. It was a tighter fit in the bay at A&E but not a big deal,” he said.

However, Varga said he was really impressed with how the situation was handled. “I give credit to the police officer who first noticed that the barn was swaying and in turn activated a response,” he said. “The barn was shored-up using front and back supports as well as wrapping it in plywood to stabilize it. I’ve heard of barn wobble, but this was dramatic. The movement of the three burn rooms to their new home four blocks away went extremely well. There were a number of things in the rooms that could have been broken in transport, but the whole transfer took place without a problem.”

Forrest Edelman, a junior in the fire science program at UNH, was finally able to enroll in a fire science lab that utilized the burn rooms this semester, but almost lost his chance. “The school did the best with what they had to work with. They were put in an unpredictable situation and we can’t fault them for that,” said Edelman. He added he thought the procedure of moving the burn rooms wasn’t perfect but it could have been worse. “At A&E, the space available for the burn rooms was very tight, and the walk over early in the morning wasn’t ideal. But at least the condemning of the barn didn’t alter our class work, and we could still finish all the requirements on time.”

Wayne Sanford, a professor in the fire science department, further explained that the new building is on track for hosting students in the fall. Given the circumstances of the hurricane and the “sharp eyes” of one of the UNH patrol officers, everyone can be thankful no one was injured.

“I am quite excited about the project. While it is sad to see the barn come down, the change is positive for our nationally recognized fire investigation program. We owe a lot to the Levy family for getting the barn converted to an arson lab, and hurricane Sandy for moving the lab to the next level,” said Sanford. “At the end of the day the new fire investigation and arson labs will be able to be used year round. A great step forward over the barn.”

Varga also said he was looking forward to having the new building, and that having all the additional space and necessities all in one building is convenient.

“This [the new barn] will make conditions much more agreeable than the below freezing temps we were dealing with in our January graduate class. I am going to miss the barn, however. It was one of a kind.”