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A Signature Site

Stalling Hartford Magnet School Over Objections That Have Already Been Addressed Cheats Students

February 4, 2007

Where will the Pathways class of 2009 spend its senior year?

Apparently not in a new state-of-the art building across from the Hartford Insurance Co., where three students now participate in a hands-on learning experience - the idea behind the Pathways to Technology Magnet School.

Nor within walking distance of the Aetna, ING, the Capitol or The Courant, other potential venues for such learning.

I just hope they're not still in a renovated big-box store just over the city line in Windsor. That site was meant to be temporary until a suitable permanent location could be found.

Here's the history of the now-stalled project.

2003: The Hartford School Building Committee, with city council and school board representatives, creates a site-selection committee. Ten to 15 sites are suggested. The prime criterion: location near downtown and Asylum Hill employers, because internships and job-shadowing are a key element in the vision for the school.

2004: In the fall, the committee weighs nine locations, recommending the site where the former Hartford Public High School sat on the southeast corner of Broad and Farmington. Looking across I-84 to the Capitol, it had been deeded to the city, with caveats.

On Dec. 21, 2004, The Courant quotes Robert E. Long, then chairman of the Hartford Board of Education and vice chairman of the school building committee, as saying: "That's going to be super. ... It's a nice use of the site." The Courant story continued: "Committee members were thrilled with the idea of using the site for a magnet school. There is a plaque on the site memorializing the old high school and committee members said they would want the plaque to be incorporated into the school's design."

Before giving final approval, the committee hires Tai Soo Kim architects to determine whether the 2?-acre site can accommodate the school, parking and bus drop-off. Traffic studies are conducted, as well as studies of the air- and noise-quality impact from I-84. The conclusion: a tight fit, but adequate. The problems are manageable without undue cost.

2005: The school building committee gives final approval in March. Neighbors Aetna, ING, the YWCA and The Hartford are contacted. The committee begins selecting the architect.

Community concerns arise about traffic congestion and the design itself. Extensive meetings are held with neighborhood groups. Planning consultant Ken Greenberg proposes road and pedestrian redesigns. Amenta/Emma Architects improves the design to address neighborhood concerns. With plans nearly finalized, it is time to seek bids.

2006: In June, the only hurdle seems minor: a legislative change to the original deed restrictions limiting use to a park, a public safety complex or economic development. Unfortunately, politics and egos get involved in what should be an educational decision. The proposal to add "school" to the deed is pulled from the House bill.

Scrapping the site means a new search - and missing the September 2008 completion date promised students. So city hall suggests that Pathways' mission - to train a technologically advanced workforce - meets the definition of "economic development."

2007: To meet the 2008 deadline, construction must begin by February. The city is confident the state will agree to the economic-development definition, although documents are not yet signed. Construction begins - obviously a misjudgment.

One will never know how large a role this fall's mayoral election has played in the Pathways site debate. Mayor Eddie Perez faces several challengers for the office, and some see Pathways as an example of mayoral overreaching.

I think not. I visited or reviewed all the proposed locations, and remain convinced that the historic Hartford High location is a signature site. Pathways Magnet must provide easy access to employment opportunities. To meet the Sheff-O'Neill diversity mandate, it must provide an attractive city location for suburban students.

We should honor the promise to the class of 2009.

Elizabeth Brad Noel is a longtime member of both the Hartford school board and 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.
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