What’s The Problem As Long As New High School Site Is Cleaned To Residential Standards

proposed Harding rendering
Rendering of proposed high school.

As elected school board members express concerns about remediation efforts on the land off Boston Avenue proposed to replace Harding High School the city faces deadlines about funding sources, cost factors and restrictions on a new location. Local and state officials say construction cannot begin on the site of the former Remington Arms munitions plant owned by General Electric without cleaned clearance to residential standards approved by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Some city activists as well as Board of Education President Sauda Baraka have recently sounded the alarm bell about site toxins. Supporters of the location argue what’s all the hullabaloo as long as the site is cleaned to residential standards?

Harding High School, nearly 90 years old, is a mess. It’s an antiquated learning environment primarily serving students on the East Side of the city. A portion of the General Electric property would be set aside for a new $78 million high school with General Electric shouldering much of the cleanup costs. The current Harding campus would then allow a much-needed expansion of the adjacent Bridgeport Hospital and creation of construction and health care jobs.

GE property
GE property off Boston Avenue. Image courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

Summary of Environmental Remediation Plan Report compiled by School Building Committee that includes a cross section of city and education officials:

The proposed Harding High School site has been extensively tested with thousands of soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells throughout the footprint of the school site. Since the site is regulated by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), cleanup must be performed by General Electric to comply with DEEP remediation standards. In the case of the Harding site, cleanup is required to achieve standards that apply to a residential property. Based on the extensive testing performed, a plan for site remediation has been developed which includes targeted soil removal, as well as the placement of a clean fill cover layer across the property. The clean fill cover layer will consist of two feet of clean fill in paved areas, and four feet of clean fill in unpaved areas. Use of a clean fill cover layer is consistent with DEEP requirements, will be protective of human health, and has been used at several other school properties including the Greenwich High School and Hamden Middle School. The DEEP will ultimately review the remedial plan, review the remediation work, before providing a final sign-off that the site has achieved residential standards. Only after DEEP has approved the remediation, will the ownership of the property be transferred to the City.

The city has received an extension on funding for a new high school that is grandfathered in under an 80/20 state-city share. Extended delays in project approval, with additional cost factors, would likely jeopardize a new high school facility as a result of changes in state law to the new 60/40 state-city funding ratio.

Harding High
Current Harding High complex. Image courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

Can the school be built elsewhere? Bridgeport is a land-poor old industrial community with numerous sites that also require extensive remediation, including the current high school location on Central Avenue. How about building a new facility on the current Harding athletic field? According to the School Building Committee report the current Harding site is constrained by footprint of the site, high cost to tear down and remediate, and would derail Bridgeport Hospital expansion.

Outgoing Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, in an exit interview Tuesday night on the Bridgeport Now cable access show hosted by Jennifer Buchanan, reiterated the site must be cleaned to residential standards. He also indicated the city risks losing the new high school with extended delays.

In the coming weeks informational sessions will provide more details about the plan. Will concerns be allayed? Or will delays kill the project?



  1. Most companies in Bridgeport like Bryant Electric Co., Remington, Hubble, GE and Bullard, buried everything on site, Most companies back in those days would make their own dump, especially for toxic waste. I can’t help but think how many Love Canals are in Bridgeport. I just hope Mayor Finch didn’t purchase another toxic waste dump like the Remington Train Station site.

    Love Canal was a neighborhood in Niagara Falls NY, located in the LaSalle section of the city. It officially covers 36 square blocks in the far southeastern corner of the city, along 99th Street and Read Avenue. Two bodies of water define the northern and southern boundaries of the neighborhood: Bergholtz Creek to the north and the Niagara River one-quarter mile (400 m) to the south. In the mid-1970s Love Canal became the subject of national and international attention after it was revealed in the press that the site had formerly been used to bury 21,000 tons of toxic waste by Hooker Chemical (now Occidental Petroleum Corporation).
    Hooker Chemical sold the site to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1, with a deed explicitly detailing the presence of the waste, and including a liability limitation clause about the contamination. The construction efforts of housing development, combined with particularly heavy rainstorms, released the chemical waste, leading to a public health emergency and an urban planning scandal. Hooker Chemical was found to be negligent in their disposal of waste, though not reckless in the sale of the land, in what became a test case for liability clauses. The dumpsite was discovered and investigated by the local newspaper, the Niagara Falls Gazette, from 1976 through the evacuation in 1978. Potential health problems were first raised by reporter Michael H. Brown in July 1978.

  2. The GE site also includes the little league fields on Asylum Street. Test wells were placed in the area of the fields 30 years ago. We need to insure the kids are educated in a toxic-free area and not hurry this project.
    Bridgeport Hospital can wait. I realize we get no taxes from the high school and we will not get squat from Bridgeport Hospital. Jobs, big deal; most of the high-paying jobs will go to out-of-towners and we will get the janitor jobs. I had a recent stay at St. Vincents and I talking to the nurses and their assistants, 90% lived outside of Bridgeport. So much for Bridgeport jobs.

  3. It looks like a glorified prison with barbed wire and no windows. They need to remember, whatever they build is expected to last close to 100 years. It should be as pleasing to the eye as it is functional. While you’re at it why not make it totally SOLAR POWERED, think green?

  4. Monday January 6 at the City Council meeting two members of the public expressed their concern about soil contamination and health issues for school children. That was the first I heard about the subject, so I looked into it.
    I remembered Columbus School had remediation issues several years ago and their youth headed to the “swing school” on the UB campus until remediation was complete. However even then, one room, for Kindergarten youth, required additional work. Testing and work completed the effort.
    Within the past two years Longfellow School was facing building remediation, but soil conditions at the site were explored and a plan for a complete new build was formed and found funding. Neighborhood concern certainly, with Council and City health officials present in addition to public school leaders, but a plan was formulated and is being carried out.
    Is the GE site for the new Harding different? In a couple ways it is in that the City will not take title until GE completes the remediation contemporaneous with the site work and school construction. That is when testing will need the most attention. And there may be stricter timelines to attend to when considering funds from the State, inflation of construction expense, and the timetable for the current Harding site subsequent to the new school availability.
    Taxpaying property is being converted to non-taxpaying with the new Harding. And Bridgeport Hospital pays no taxes and presumably will owe no more in claiming the old Harding site. HOWEVER, what is the potential for “Voluntary $ in Lieu of Taxes” from the Hospital as the Jewish Home recently provided? Since the State does not pay a full assessment based PILOT, perhaps the value of the VILOT might be the % the State does not pay to Bridgeport? Worth asking, isn’t it? In any case, why slow the project down unless there is another reason, currently hidden from view? It puts school prep timelines in jeopardy. To what end?
    Perhaps more people need to pay attention to the School Building Committee, the work it reviews monthly, how well it deals with timelines, questions, and being a public forum for lots of School projects? Time will tell.

  5. Personally, I love the artist rendering. The facade is very modern and artistic. I would like the school to be visible from Boston Avenue with exterior landscaping to enhance the campus as well as visually contribute to the marketability of future development on the site. Bridgeport needs to continually keep the bigger picture in mind. GE may want to clean up and encapsulate the land so we do not discover future toxin problems.

    On a side note, I like most taxpayers are still waiting for the December 2013 announcement of other retailers coming to Steelepointe.

    A more urgent issue is the February 8 2014 meeting discussing the Bridgeport Housing Authority replacement housing for Marina Village. 78 units proposed across the street from the Arena and Harbor yard. Mayor Finch will never live this down and I would call for the resignation of Development director David Kooris. You would have to be a complete idiot to put downtown redevelopment at risk. I would urge the Mayor to be very careful as his support for this would most definitely become an albatross around his neck. It took 50 years to get rid of the housing projects in the heart of the City. You can attempt to promote this issue any way you want. You will attract drug dealers and drive-by shootings and in effect put Ralph and Rich’s, Harbor Yard and the Arena out of business. There is no room now for this insanity. I totally support scattered replacement housing for Marine Village. I do believe people deserve to live in a safe clean environment. I do not believe public housing belongs anywhere near an area on the verge of gentrification and Steelepointe. Scattered townhouses on side streets would be more appropriate to me. But alas, I am only a cheerleader for the City of Bridgeport. I have been to many different countries and hundreds of cities and I am still baffled by the sophomoric plans the largest city in the state of Connecticut supports.
    Mayor Finch, please be wise and thoughtful, realistic and supportive of residents who have taken a leap of faith as well as businesses that have faith in the future of our great city. Do not be impressed by the artist renderings. Do realize what an unfortunate incident will do to attract future developers.

  6. *** Let’s not sound so dramatic, for educational purposes such as building a new High School on cleanup to regulation standards soil, funding extensions can be continued longer if needed and if Bpt’s State Legislative body gets off their derbies and gets behind the project! It’s been done before throughout the state. No need to go around looking for another site. which are very limited when it comes to new schools in Bpt. Do it right the first time and avoid fines, headaches and lots more money spending in the future to correct mistakes made by rushing and cutting corners, no? ***

  7. *** Solar power, modern; and please let there be areas where you can open windows for fresh air and cost savings should the heating and air units fail sometime, no? *** Don’t forget the security cameras! ***

  8. The remediation standards are governed by state and federal law and regulations. If the appropriate officials conclude the property has been remediated to residential standards I don’t see what the problem is.

    Of course it was supported by the Mayor, Paul Vellas and the old Board of Education, which is usually more than enough reason for the new Board majority to oppose it.

  9. Hey, this is a gem. We take 1.2 million square feet of taxable industrial space off our tax rolls, give GE a ticket to get out of town, give $60 million contracts to politically connected companies, keep the unions donating to our campaigns and tear down another historic, structurally sound building. What’s the problem?

  10. Only in Bridgeport … Honestly, the GE parcel was totally obsolete. We are supposed to look at this space for the next few decades without activity. Does anybody not see a need to build a state-of-the-art High School in the state’s largest city to replace an antiquated building that kept thousands of students at a disadvantage not to mention low self-esteem for students and teachers? Would A NEW STATE-OF-THE-ART HIGH SCHOOL not enhance future development projects? Honestly, so many on this blog can suck the life out of the room. Mayor Finch, you should be commended for putting this project on the fast track. If you are going to be publicly criticized then you should be publicly congratulated for a job well done. This new school needs to be a landmark building to enhance the US1-Boston Avenue corridor and will be a huge improvement to the neighborhood. Kudos.

  11. Steve, we could have used the existing building for Harding. That would have been the green thing to do. New school buildings and renovations around the city have been going on for years and the quality of education continues to slide. Walls do not an education make! Let’s look at all those “old, outdated, obsolete, 100-year-old buildings” abandoned by the City in the past, as well as factory buildings and notice how charter schools such as Park City Academy, Achievement First and others have test scores comparable to suburban schools while drawing from the same pool as standard public schools in Bridgeport. Even with a $3,000 cut in aid per student, they are outshining students in all your new buildings. Steve, your outlook would be obviously passé in many other cities, but not in Bridgeport.

    1. Sadly, you are mistaken about where the charter schools pull their kids from. The charter school population is not reflective of the demographics of Bridgeport Public Schools. Their tests scores do not compare to Bridgeport’s selective schools, i.e. High Horizons, Mulitcultural, as a matter of fact no charter school in the city does better than these schools.

      1. Achievement First cannot be selective. They have the same demographics as public schools. They spend $3000 less per pupil and the results are magnificent.

  12. Bridgeporteur, I totally respect your opinion. During Tom Bucci’s administration I was appointed to The Historic Commission of Black Rock for 6 years.
    Eight years later I was totally supportive and vocal about Joel Shiavone’s attempt to convert 181 buildings in downtown Bridgeport, a project comparable to the work done in New Haven. I absolutely believe in saving historically significant buildings. I was disgusted and vocal and down by Seaside Park protesting the demolition of the Curtis mansion on the waterfront of Seaside Park 30 years ago for a highrise that never manifested. The Remington site was totally obsolete and not salvageable and the Warren Harding high school is not at all worth salvaging. I can not imagine Bridgeport Hospital doing anything but demolition. Your comment about the walls of Harding not responsible for the lack of education, I beg to differ. The school should have been rebuilt decades ago. The weakness of the elected officials of the district and the lack of respect for the residents in that neighborhood have put Harding on the back burner. Saving buildings like the Poli and Majestic theaters are worthwhile and significant. Governor Rowland made sure Waterbury rehabilitated the theaters that are the cousins of the Bridgeport Theaters.
    This city could do with a little more culture and a lot less cynicism. It would be nice for the youth to have a new school and a lot more culturally enhancing activities in the city. Music, theater, opera and symphony should be made available to all of our city youth. Exposure is important and environment is equally important to the teachers as the students. The few times I have been in Harding, it has been a depressing, horrid experience. The students and teachers deserve to have pride.

  13. Steve, you give opinions without the facts to back you up. GE was salvageable and Harding is a sound attractive building. What qualifies you as an authority?

    1. The fact I have a voice and use it. What makes you an authority? Did you have a developer? Can you create a 21st-century school on the Harding parcel? The answer is no. I AM NOT AN AUTHORITY AND I RESPECTED YOUR OPINION. ONE MOVES THE CITY FORWARD, THE OTHER KEEPS THE CITY IN A DARK MISERABLE DREARY CASE. IN THIS CASE I AM AN AUTHORITY AND I AM CERTAIN MOST WOULD AGREE WITH ME … YOU LIKE HARDING, DEAL WITH BRIDGEPORT HOSPITAL. THEY OWN IT.

    2. The GE building was obsolete. The tunnel that ran underneath the buildings would have been a logistical nightmare for school administration, and a useless waste of space. The buildings had to come down. I wish the property would be for a revenue generating project, but it seems like the new Harding it will be.

  14. A building with three foot thick walls and flooring strong enough to drive trucks over it that is industrially zoned with 1.2 million taxable square feet of solid industrial building space is not obsolete! It is folly to take an individual and challenge him to fix it, as you have implied towards me. Take the wasted $60 million, the millions to demo it and use it with imagination. About six hundred pretty intelligent individuals signed a petition to try to save the buildings. This deal with the Board of Ed was done before it was even torn down. Where’s my democracy Steve and Black Rockin? This is the way business is done in this town because folks accept the Lowest Common Denominator. Let your government do all this dirty work then pretend it’s not happening.

  15. Has any study been done to calculate the projected student population in future years? Are we building a high school that will actually be too large for the future student population?
    Did anyone from the city look at the area around and including East Side middle school?
    Under Mayor Finch we are taking away a lot of taxable property from the tax roles. Harding High School property(GE) is one and also the industrial zoned land on Knowlton Street to enlarge a park no one uses.

  16. I can’t wait for the new high school to be built. It will be like magic, all the kids will be scholars. Teachers will give a shit and everything will be great.
    When are the BOE and education leaders going to talk about changing high school courses so they help the kids not going to college move forward? I am sick and tired about all the talk about college-bound high schoolers needing this or needing that.

  17. I see big money driving this, not what’s good for the kids. What conversations took place between GE and the City about six years ago when Finch came into office when this deal between GE and the City for a new Harding took place? What could former and current council members and former economic development directors reveal?

    GE is selling all their industrial real estate to the Blackstone Group according to a Post news article last week. The largest private equity firm in the world, fueled by Wall Street hedge funds and private equity firms. After the Wall Street foreclosure crisis of 2007, 2 million people lost their homes. In the past year and a half, Blackstone Group bought back 200,000 foreclosures and are now renting them back to the people who lost their homes. This is just to put into context who we are dealing with on the Harding deal.


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