January 26, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
A new sign at Broad Street and Farmington Avenue announces that the triangle of land there will be the site of Pathways to Technology Magnet School.
Most of the city's legislative delegation is fuming. And a cadre of state officials - maybe right up to the governor - could get into the mix before a school is built on the parcel aside I-84.
The state owns the land and is willing to let the city build on it - but not a school.
The new, inter-district magnet school, currently in temporary space in Windsor, would be eligible for 95 percent reimbursement from the state because it helps satisfy the state's settlement in the lawsuit to desegregate Hartford's schools.
"This is the state's responsibility. Hartford is trying to work with the state," Mayor Eddie A. Perez said.
But in a letter dated Wednesday, George A. Coleman, interim commissioner of education, warned Perez that the state won't reimburse the city for expenses - $2 million already has been spent on architecture and environmental fees - until the site gets a green light for construction.
The state has put deed restrictions on the property allowing only three uses: a park, a public safety complex or an economic development project.
The city sought a waiver of the restrictions last year, but Hartford's legislative delegation blocked the waiver over concerns about heavy traffic at the intersection, lack of green space for athletics and worries that emissions from nearby I-84 make the site a poor choice for a school.
In response to concerns about traffic and green space, Perez asked urban planner Ken Greenberg to evaluate the site's suitability for a school. Greenberg said Thursday that in its current condition the traffic patterns around the site aren't safe for a school, pedestrians or even vehicles.
But Greenberg has worked with a traffic specialist to develop proposals to improve traffic flow and make the area more friendly to pedestrians and more attractive. The proposals include a greenway link to Bushnell Park and downtown that would be created by closing part of Farmington or Asylum avenues and wider sidewalks. The plans are being reviewed by a committee of representatives from area businesses, including The Hartford Courant, which is on Broad Street.
Perez changed his tack this year. Rather than try again for a waiver on the deed restriction, he wrote to Coleman arguing that building the school for business and technology at the Broad Street site constitutes economic development. The curriculum trains students "in the most advanced and emerging technologies in order to provide downtown businesses ... with a state of the art workforce" that would help businesses compete in the global economy. Students are required to complete internships and from that site, officials say, they can walk to insurance companies and other businesses.
In his response to Perez's letter, Coleman wrote that Robert Genuario, secretary of the office of policy and management, has referred the question of whether the school qualifies as economic development to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for an opinion.
Blumenthal said Thursday that he has not reached a decision yet. But his decision may not settle the matter anyway.
If he decides that the school does not qualify as economic development, the city will try to buy the land from the state, Perez said, noting that the state will then reimburse the city for the cost. Since the school is a Sheff Magnet, the cost of land is reimbursable from the state.
But Blumenthal said that a decision in favor of the city's position may not resolve the matter either because others, such as Coleman, Genuario, the legislature and governor may challenge the plan as a matter of policy rather than on legal grounds.
State Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford, said the legislature would have to approve the sale of the land to Hartford and that most of the city's delegation would oppose the sale. Those members of the delegation who don't like the plan signed a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell outlining their opposition to building the school on the site and asking for a meeting with her as soon as possible.
Hartford is ready to break ground as soon as it hears from Blumenthal, if he sees things as Perez does, said Charles Crocini, director of capital projects.
"This is squarely a legal matter," said Carl Nasto, Hartford's deputy corporation counsel. "If the AG says this use complies with the terms of the deed, then the city is prepared to commence construction at the site and comply with the Sheff mandate."
The school can be an impetus for improvements in the area, Perez said. "It fits economic development. It fits everything we want to do there. We've bent over backwards to make this project work and at the end of the day, this is a good project."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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