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Is Hartford Public Obsolete?

Superintendent, Principal Find Fault With $107 Million Renovation

January 23, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

The $107 million renovation and expansion of Hartford Public High School is not finished, but the city's new school superintendent and the principal say the design already is obsolete.

Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski, who took over the troubled school system in November, wants to hire a consultant to consider design changes - though construction is scheduled to be completed in the spring.

Troubled Renovation

Hartford Public High School's renovation project has been a 10-year nightmare of constant trouble, political clashes and cost overruns.


  • School nearly loses accreditation, ends up on probation
  • Crisis pushes state to take control of Hartford schools
  • $62 million budgeted for renovation and expansion


  • Accreditation restored for curriculum, instruction and leadership; building remains on probation
  • Architects who designed project go out of business
  • Project stalls when city clashes with state-appointed building committee over who can hire program manager to oversee project; state attorney general decides building committee has authority


  • Construction manager is replaced; top person in program manager's office quits, complaining of confusion over which officials have authority over office
  • Still no steel in the ground


  • Cost hits $107 million, $45 million over initial budget


  • With completion in sight, superintendent and principal say building already obsolete

Since the school was threatened with loss of accreditation in 1997, upgrading the 1,500-student school has been a 10-year nightmare of multiple delays, intervention by the state and millions of dollars in cost overruns.

Classes have continued during construction, and the renovated building by all accounts is an improvement over the old one. But since the renovation was designed, the trend has shifted from large, "comprehensive" high schools to "academies" - smaller learning clusters or schools within a school, the superintendent and the principal say.

"Here we have a perfectly designed comprehensive high school in a time when comprehensive high schools are obsolete," Adamowski told the school board.

It is unclear what changes a consultant might suggest or what costs they would add to a project already $45 million over its original budget.

The philosophy of academies within a large school is to create clusters of 400 to 600 students who would stay in one part of the building with teachers who get to know them well and keep track of them.

The idea is to help teachers have more control over students, improve the school climate and make it harder for students to skip classes or miss school without teachers noticing.

But in the renovated building, science classrooms and art classrooms are grouped together, rather than having a few of each in various academy areas, Adamowski noted.

School principal Zandralyn V. Gordon said that "the design of the school does not meet our needs as we move toward small learning communities so kids are not traveling long distances to get to their classes."

A principal of the firm that oversaw the building's design, JCJ Architecture, was startled by the school officials' claims that the new design would not accommodate the academy settings.

"The school was designed to function in two ways: either as a traditional school or as small learning communities," said JCJ's Scott P. Celella. "The definition of `small learning community' is a broad definition."

In the renovated school, he said, science classes are clustered together, but there are three clusters of them - one on each floor - which could accommodate three academies. And there is a separate academy designed specifically for a curriculum in technology.

Elizabeth Brad Noel, a long-time member of both the school board and the building committee, said she has not toured Hartford Public yet, but she recalls that in presentations to the building committee, the architect specifically said the building could accommodate individual academies.

"My understanding was that making smaller units had been part of the plan," she said. "This has been a very, very expensive project. If it's going to cost more, this is something we need to know."

Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of both the building committee and the school board, said Hartford Public has always accommodated academies despite a layout requiring students to travel around the school for classes.

He was in one himself in the 1970s, he said. "I had to travel down the stairs to get to the chemistry lab ... it didn't bother me."

"Every superintendent would design a high school differently, just like every homeowner would design a house differently," Perez said.

Adamowski, he said, "can make the design work because he's a great educator."

The renovation of Hartford Public is the centerpiece of the district's billion-dollar school renovation plan.

The condition of the building was a critical factor when the school nearly lost its accreditation in 1997. That crisis was a major factor leading to the state's takeover of the entire school district.

Accreditation for curriculum and many other factors was restored by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges in 2001. The accreditation for the condition of the building remains on probation.

In the time since the state assumed oversight of the district, there have been two architectural firms overseeing designs at different times, two different construction managers, four principals and three superintendents.

Costs have risen from an initial $62 million to more than $80 million, then to $105 million and finally to $107 million.

Along the way, the state legislature stripped the city public works department of authority over school renovation projects - in part because of its failure to make progress on the Hartford Public renovation project - and created the School Building Committee.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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