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Old School's Days Are Over

Failed Facade * Walls Too Weak To Incorporate Into New Building

Hartford Courant Editorial

April 10, 2010

It's hard to know if this could have been avoided, but Hartford is about to lose another 19th-century building.

For several years, the city planned to save the facade of the former board of education building on High Street and incorporate it into a new $77 million public safety complex. Work began last year: The interior of the building was gutted. Then, ominously, a three-story, 20-foot-wide section of wall on the east side of the building collapsed in an October wind storm.

Last month, officials determined that the walls were not structurally sound and would have to come down.

David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer, said the structure has been extensively examined over four months because the city "tried mightily" to save the walls. But he said the architects and engineers found that the condition of the brick and mortar is simply not strong enough to hold up to the work.

He said the project's architects are committed to replicating the "style, period, look and feel" of the building, which was built in 1891 as the Second North District School.

City officials have been working with preservationists and others on this project for several years, so it's hard to understand why this issue was discovered so late in the game. The building was abandoned for almost a decade and suffered water damage. Why can't governments take better care of their historic buildings? There need to be tough standards for mothballing historic buildings as well as incentives for reusing them.

Attempts to replicate historic buildings are not always successful; We hope this one will be. The building is important in several respects: It's a gateway to the North End; it could anchor a revival of the Victorian neighborhood orphaned from downtown by the unfortunate location of I-84; and it brings the police closer to downtown and the neighborhoods.

The loss of this building should remind us that many of the city's historic school buildings are architecturally significant and worth saving. There's an effort under way to list two on the National Register of Historic Places; they all should be on the register. Let's not lose another one.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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