March 20, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
A $105 million expansion and renovation designed to win back full accreditation of Hartford Public High School is not likely to be finished when the accrediting agency inspects the school next month.
And that could mean the high school will remain on probation for years to come.
The school's near-loss of accreditation in 1997 was a major factor leading the state to take over the school district. It took a high-powered group of legislators and city officials to persuade the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to put the school on probation rather than remove its accreditation.
The probation for most areas of the school was lifted in 2001 but the library, finances and overall renovation remain under a cloud.
On Monday, officials overseeing the renovation told Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski the library media center and auditorium might not be finished by the April 29 visit from accreditors.
A dismayed Adamowski told the school building committee that the district had postponed the accreditation visit until late April so construction would be finished.
"We were told the media center would be done by February break," Adamowski complained. "February break has come and gone. ... Without the auditorium and the media center, accreditation is not going to happen."
Officials of the accrediting agency could not be reached for comment Monday.
Meanwhile, the building committee, of which Adamowski is a member, struggled with construction costs of another high school and decided to put the school out to bid again - this time without a gym.
Bids for the University High School of Science and Engineering came in $8.9 million over the project's $36.6 million budget. The magnet school, designed in partnership with the University of Hartford, is to be built on campus on a parcel donated by the university.
But the plot is surrounded by wetlands, a river and a major sewer line that severely restrict construction.
The original design called for a gym to be built on stilts, an expensive way to comply with flood-plain requirements. To cut costs, another design put the gym back on the ground. But there is only enough land for a half-court gym that wouldn't accommodate athletics.
So Adamowski suggested dropping the gym altogether and considering whether space is adequate for a fitness center. As the district builds more small high schools for 400 students, such as University High School, he said, alternatives to expensive gyms must be found.
"To think every high school of 400 students is going to have a full complement of sports activities is not realistic," Adamowski said. "There is no correlation between student fitness levels and physical education classes that are gym-based," he said.
Veronica Airey-Wilson, a building committee member, abstained from the vote to put the project out to bid without a gym because she said sports help schools draw students and create school spirit, and some students depend on athletic scholarships to pay for college.
David Isgur, spokesman for the University of Hartford, said university officials are willing to discuss the possibility of sharing their fitness center and pool with the high school, though there is high demand for the gym during the hours the high school would want to use it.
The state is supposed to pay 95 percent of the school's construction cost. The city has put in a request with the state legislature for an additional $4.9 million for University High School construction, but it's unlikely the legislature will vote on the request before June.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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