HARTFORD — — A proposal to renovate the prison-like Weaver High School building into a light-filled structure with three specialized academies has been delayed as the school system tries to build support for the project.
Under plans presented in December, the low-performing Weaver High in the city's North End would have academies in culinary arts and hospitality, health sciences and possibly architecture — and would resemble more of a college campus than a penitentiary.
But the overhaul, which the school system had said could be completed by summer 2015, would come at an estimated cost of up to $150 million. Funding would be heavily dependent on the state at a time of fiscal belt-tightening.
The plans were met with deep skepticism and only a small amount of excitement when Christina Kishimoto and other city school administrators detailed them to residents at public forums in the Weaver auditorium.
At a recent city board of education meeting, Superintendent Steven Adamowski said the proposal was "a good starting point." Among the ideas that Kishimoto, an assistant superintendent of secondary schools and the incoming schools chief, had promoted was a potential partnership between Weaver and the neighboring University of Hartford.
However, the school system needs "a strong community consensus that would justify this level of expenditure" before moving ahead with a renovation, Adamowski said.
"Let's assume that it's not even $150 million," said Adamowski. "Let's assume that it's $100 million — you can't really build a high school for less than $100 million today. That uses up a great deal of the city's bonding capacity. It is a tremendous investment on the part of taxpayers, both state and local."
An initial schedule had called for board and city council approvals in February and May, respectively, before applying for state money around June. Instead, Adamowski said, he anticipated discussions with community members over the next several months to develop a "a firmer consensus" on the number of academies and their themes.
Kishimoto has described the nearly windowless, 370,000-square-foot Weaver building, constructed in the early 1970s and hunkered on almost 29 acres on Granby Street, as "essentially a concrete block." Students attend class with little to no natural sunlight. Administrators have talked about a need to overhaul Weaver since 2008.
The postponement of renovation plans came as news to Precious Ross-Ellis, the parent-teacher organization president at Weaver.
"They told us they were going to give us this new school and we want a new school in our community," Ross-Ellis said. "I'm going to hold them accountable for it. … I don't want them to say they can't find the money. They've found the money for all these other schools."
But state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who represents the Blue Hills, Upper Albany and Asylum Hill neighborhoods, said this week that he supported taking a step back. McCrory said he has heard from constituents who dislike the idea of career-specific academies and want Weaver to return to being a comprehensive high school.
Weaver, originally founded in 1923 on Ridgefield Street, has already been divided into smaller academies, such as culinary arts and journalism and media, as part of reform efforts.
"The glory days of Weaver — that's what the community wants to bring back," said McCrory, a former vice principal at the school. "And they want to be part of the process."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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