New Harding High School–A ‘Showstopper’–Brightens East Side

Aresta Johnson ribbon cutting
Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson, center with scissors, leads ribbon cutting.

This place is fit for presidents, and more importantly students. City and education officials on Thursday cut the ribbon to the iconic new Harding High School on the East Side, a $106 million gem years in the making guided under the former mayoral administration of Bill Finch from property donated by General Electric on a once-contaminated arms and munitions factory site. The state-of-the-art school off Boston Avenue, 80-percent funded by the state, replaces the 90-year-old hulking eyesore a few blocks away on Central Avenue.

The school is built on 17.16 acres amounting to roughly 420,000 square feet. The property was officially transferred to the city by GE on Tuesday. For Larry Schilling, the program manager who updated city and education officials on the progress, the school has been his life during a three-year construction period. The football/soccer field is surrounded by an eight-lane track fit for state championship competition. The baseball/softball fields are also synthetic surfaces.

Harding High external
Entrance to new school. Photo: Ned Gerard, Hearst Connecticut Media

The facility, designed by Bridgeport-based Antinozzi Associates, is built to accommodate 1,150 students with approximately 1,000-seat gymnasium that also reflects the storied history of basketball legends John Bagley, Wes Matthews and Charles Smith. The main part of the school will have three of what Antinozzi Associates, architects of the project, call collabagoras. A light and airy central space between classrooms, the collabagoras will also allow students to see through glass railings to floors above and below. There will be one for each of the school’s three houses.

Harding football
Harding football players at ribbon cutting prepare for upgraded facility

Prior to construction GE commenced cleanup supervised by the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that includes four feet of clean soil. The complex also features a solar farm to power the school at 5.5 cents a kilowatt hour, something certainly to bring a smile to Finch, the green technology ex-mayor.

Mayor Joe Ganim and Congressman Jim Himes were among the speakers. Prior to cutting the ribbon Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson declared, before a gathering of hundreds, the new Harding a “showstopper.” She urged students to “be courageous, be bold and be presidents!” the namesake of the school after President Warren Harding.

Pereira Harding
School board member Maria Pereira, who attended Harding, gives thumbs up at ceremony.

For Finch, defeated by Ganim in a 2015 primary, the school is a mayoral legacy shepherded by his then Deputy Chief of Staff Ruben Felipe who navigated serpentine issues ranging from site search, environmental concerns, funding, opposition and potential name changes.

“Of all the efforts that I had the privilege to be involved with in my time serving in the mayor’s office the construction of a new Harding High School is perhaps the one that I felt most personally invested,” Felipe told OIB. “As a father who has sent three children through the Bridgeport public school system I am proud and humbled that I had the opportunity to play a small role in seeing this project come to fruition. The challenges were great but the kids of the East Side and East End deserve the opportunity to go to school in a state-of-the-art building. My ongoing hope is that we will be able to provide all the kids in Bridgeport with the quality education not just beautiful buildings.”

Schilling Harding
Larry Schilling, a construction manager for the city, stands in one of the common areas in the new Harding High School. Photo: Ned Gerard, Hearst Connecticut Media.
Harding athletic field
Football field. Photo: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media


  1. Nice hopefully it remains that way. Hopefully those who do great things can stay in the city and make it better. Taxes are so high here it has forced middle income people like me out currently in the process of moving out of bridgeport to the valley.

  2. I’m very happy for the students and that neighborhood. I grew up over there and it’s good to see something new for the high school students since the focus the past few years has been new elementary schools. Hoping they take care of Bassick too as they need a new facility. Also interesting to see the positive views of many here on OIB. This was not a popular project during the Finch years so glad to see people come around on this. Good luck to the students they have a building they can take pride in as much as they do being Harding Presidents. Lennie im guessing the Thanksgiving game will be back now correct?

    1. It was Sauda, Bobby and I that fought for the Harding High School Project.

      Our Capital Projects were presented in tiers 1-5 and it took years to move from Tire 5 to Tier 1.

      In early 2010, Pat Crossin made a motion to move Harding from Tier I to Tier IV and to place an addition for the 7th & 8th Grade at Black Rock School immediately into Tier I.

      There were an average of 36 sixth graders at Black Rock School and 1,100 students at Harding, but the Black Rock School addition was the priority.

      When I asked Pat Crossin what would be the basis for such a motion he said ” Black Rock pays a lot of taxes.”

      Bobby, Sauda and I organized the community and they came in force with posters, signs, etc., many which read “We pay a lot of taxes too!”

      Dr. Ramos, Barbara Bellinger and Pat Crossin and their cohort became so nervous that Pat Crossin made a motion to place both Harding High School and the Black Rock School addition into Tier I.

      I was absolutely passionate about building a new Warren Harding High School, however I was, and am still, completely opposed to building it on the largest Brownfield in CT with areas defined as “toxic dumps” by DEEP.

      I sat there yesterday praying that every child, parent and staff member that would spend any significant time in the new location would never develop a serious illness due to the contaminants on the old G.E. site.

      We owe that decision to Andre Baker, Kenneth Moales, Hernan Illingworth, and Jacqueline Kelleher.

      Sauda Baraka, Howard Gardner, John Bagley and Dave Hennessey voted against the G. E. location.

        1. You responded to me but I did not call out anyone specifically. Many people did not like the project and now they are looking toward positive future for the students. Also. I could care less about Joe L. I do not know him. I hope the remediation was done properly. As I said. I’m happy for the student and the neighborhood.

      1. *** Talks & plans for a new high-school have been on the back burner plans of the “school buildings committee” since Mayor Fabrizi days with a push to finish at that time the new, Battalla school, Tisdalle school, Johnson school, & Wheeler High. It was a City, BOE & State venture by many not just a choosen few! Lets do our political homework before taking credit for new schools! ***

        1. Mojo,

          You were in no way involved with the building of the new Warren Harding High School.

          You did not organize the community around the project, you did not attend a single School Building Committee meeting, you did not attend the DEEP public hearings, you did not attend the P & Z meetings, you did not testify before the City Council or BOE regarding the project.

          To be factual, you did absolutely nothing regarding the building of a new WHHS.

          *** You do nothing but post on OIB with your idiotic asteriks.***

          1. *** For those that have a problem reading blogs, I did “not” say I was involved in the Harding High School building project. I stated that many of the new schools projects were talked about & some planed back during the Fabrizi Era by the city schools building committee! Take your Vitamins please then go back & re-read the blog again. *************************************************************

          2. Mojo, just too many capitilization, spelling, etc. errors to address. I especially know how important spelling is to you. 🙂

          3. Warren Harding High School was not planned for during the Fabrizi administration. That is a completely false assertion.

            It was a project initiated by the Finch administration. It was moved by a varity of Board of Education and City Council bodies.

            It was bonded by the both the Malloy and Finch administrations that had nothing to do with Fabrizi.

            I recommend YOU do your “political homework” before you post completely inaccurate statements on OIB.

      1. Bridgeport Hospital already 2,600 employees and with this purchase the City will see even a bigger growth of job and career opportunity for Bridgeport residents who will also be paying taxes and purchasing and spending money right here in Bridgeport.

    1. We are holding onto the school because we need a location to move our 1,100 Bassick students when the renovate as new project starts at Bassick High School.

  3. Correct me if I am wrong but Bridgeport Hospital does not pY taxes. Instead the state makes a payment in lieu of taxes and if I am correct it is about half of what property taxes would be and sure to go down if we elect a Republican Governor along with a Republican House and Senate.

    1. Bob, Governor Malloy and the State Legislation change that process plus with the cut backs of the ADA or Obama Care the hospitals pick up that cost now.

  4. But we get no taxes on the property now as its a public school – so yes we lost GE and the new school will bring no taxes but Bpt Hosp will bring PILOT – and if Lamont delivers on his promise FULL PILOT

  5. Bridgeport hospital is now owned by Yale. Yale now makes a $7.5 million annual voluntary contribution to the city of New Haven.

    Does Bridgeport get this influx of cash every year like New Haven,if not why not?

    1. Donald –
      In regards to the payment – I found this on the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Site:
      “Yale University pays taxes and is currently one of the top 5 taxpayers in New Haven. Every non-profit university in the nation is exempt from paying taxes on their academic property. But, through its community investment program that redevelops nearby property, Yale pays real estate taxes – over $4.5 million last year – on all of our non-academic property.

      Yale University makes a voluntary payment – over $8.7 million last year – to the City of New Haven. Since 1990, Yale has paid the City over $116m in voluntary payments alone”

      they specify the University. I could not find anything on whether the Hospital System does. There is a section on the same page that reads:
      “Yale University supports the local community with its resources. For example, Yale University Medical School physicians provide over $12 million per year in free care to the local community. (Yale New Haven Hospital also provides significant uncompensated care but it is a separate entity from Yale University with its own independent management)”
      Sounds like the money comes from the University side as this points out separate management. So there is a payment thats credited to the University, but does not call out the Hospital System.
      Looked up BPT Hospital, did not find a flat dollar give back – but their community outreach programs were significant. For example – per the link below they:
      “BH provided free or discounted healthcare services to over 20,740 eligible people at a loss of $27.9 million, plus under-reimbursed services for 119,905 Medicaid beneficiaries at a loss of $33.1 million. BH also guarantees access to care by subsidizing clinical programs at a loss of $1.8 million.” They don’t specify how many were direct to BPT residents, but i’d think there is a good portion that make up that figure.

    2. @Donald Day
      Bridgeport Hospital is NOT owned by Yale University (who pays 7.5m to New Haven). Bridgeport Hospital is owned by Yale New Haven Health a different entity.

      This is a common misconception, but this New Haven native knows the difference.

  6. Leave it like you found it. No graffiti ,no garbage tossed about, don’t damage the property. No marking up the desks, walls or the bathroom stalls. Show some pride in the new school and a place you want to show off.

  7. Grab a trumpet-two SHOUT OUTS:

    If it’s meaningful, it cannot be completed within your term. Congratulations, Mayor Finch.

    To Coach Santiago at Harding High: I hope your playbook is full of touchdowns and defensive STOPS.

  8. *** Bravo on the new Harding High-School, lets hope its maintained inside & out by the city, staff, students, etc… so it can last as long as the old Harding High.*** New Topic: Ct’s U.S Senators, R.B & C.M have registered a federal complaint at the U.S Capitol against the Trump’s Admin. policy to use educational funds to train & buy weapons for school teachers picked to be front-line staff responder’s against any weapons type school assaults towards staff, students, etc… before things escalate further & police & other first-responder’s get to the site.*** Maybe the money being taken away from the schools educational funds should come from someplace else? Many schools today ask for extra funds for education during budget times & now need much more money just for better safety measures at the schools. Not an easy task to decide whats the best way to make schools much safer but where should the money come from? Well seems like another political debate coming, before anything is finally agreed to, no? *** WHAT SAY YOU? ***

    1. Mojo, as you know Alex Jones who is one of 45’s biggest supporter said that the 20 young children who were shot and killed in the Newton massacre didn’t happen and it was a hoax. One wants guns in schools and another said that those who were killed didn’t happen and we hear nothing from 45 and his supporters.

  9. *** Once again, “talked about & some planed” is not saying that Harding High was completely planed during the Fabrizi Admin. Stop picking only parts of a sentence to continue trying to make your point! If you want credit for Harding High, then this blog & all its readers will just have to take you “word”, no? *** count to ten then take a breath! ***

  10. Mojo,

    Once again, no “plans” for a new WHHS were formulated, created, voted on or developed under the Fabrizi administration. Your assertions are false.

  11. The new WHHS will serve the youth of the East End & Eastside quite well and instill a sense of pride in their new school. While I thought that a name change was in order, [Barack Obama High] would have been a nice touch, I’ve since changed my mind on that. I watched the video of the day the alumni came back and that changed my mind. I saw young men and women that went to WWHS with my children and Brother’s and Sister’s that went to Harding when I first came to Bridgeport in 1968. What I saw in all of that was a pride and a genuine love for Harding that may have been lost had there been a name change. Maria you were right on that one.

    Now to those that wrote I hope they don’t tear in up, I hope they keep it nice and other negative things in the guise of good luck. When was the last time any of you negative posters walked the halls of Harding? It wasn’t torn up, no graffiti on the walls inside or out, no lockers torn from its frame,nothing more than 90 years of wear and tear that could have been better serviced by the city. Because the school will be utilized by mostly Black and Latino youth doesn’t mean they would tear it up. It defies credulity to think, feel or believe that these children lack the pride or the motivation to keep its school nice and beautiful. You act like Black and Latino children lack the self control to keep it nice or are prone to tearing things up. One of the biggest hurdles that these children will face is people underestimating them because what they look like, where they live or where they were educated. They didn’t tear up the first one so…


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