$54.6M Project Would Improve West Middle Elementary
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
March 23, 2011
The board of education has unanimously approved plans to renovate West Middle Elementary School through a $54.6 million project that supporters say is decades overdue.
The main building at West Middle, situated on Asylum Avenue within walking distance of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and Aetna headquarters, was constructed in 1894. The last major renovation was in 1930.
With an enrollment of 689 students in grades pre-K to 8, some classes at the neighborhood school are now taught in the basement, under the gym floor. "Old and in dire need of an upgrade," was how Superintendent Steven Adamowski described the building this week.
"The fortunes of the neighborhood rise and fall with West Middle School," said Bernie Michel, head of the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association and one of several community leaders to address the board Tuesday night in support of the project.
The proposal, which would be heavily dependent on state funding, would renovate West Middle to "as-new" condition by August 2015 while maintaining the building's historic character, said Alex Nardone, the schools' chief operating officer. Space would also be expanded from 89,000 square feet to roughly 103,000 square feet, and enrollment would be expected to reach 750.
Among the possible additions is a media center for community meetings and — in what Adamowski called an opportunity that might not present itself again "in 50 years" — relocating the Mark Twain public library branch to the school.
The branch is next to a Chinese take-out restaurant on Farmington Avenue and across from a Taco Bell.
City council approval of the project is needed in the next few months. By June, the school system expects to submit a grant application to the state that requests 80 percent reimbursement of the renovation costs.
The overall $54.6 million projected cost and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to change the state's school construction program were not lost on board member Elizabeth Brad Noel.
"I worry," Noel said. "What happens if the state says no?"
Even if there is a moratorium on school-construction spending, Nardone said, "we want to be on the priority list."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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