In a commentary that also appears in the CT Post, Mayor Bill Finch urges the Board of Education to approve Boston Avenue property owned by General Electric as the new site of construction to replace Harding High School “instead of allowing a handful of obstructionists to play politics with the future and well-being of our children.” The Connecticut Working Families Party that controls many votes on the school board opposes the location claiming environmental concerns with the former site of a munitions factory. The mayor writes the school site will be cleaned to residential standards, adding “The committee chair allowed a small group of political operatives with ulterior motives to derail the process with innuendo and rhetoric and in some cases, completely inaccurate information.” Commentary follows:
The students and parents of the East Side and East End communities deserve a replacement for Harding High School. For nearly two decades, Harding has been in major disrepair. All possibilities to repair and renovate the current building have been exhausted. There is no alternative to new construction.
Two previous administrations have received grants from the State to build a replacement for Harding High School. Neither of these attempts came to fruition, and the grant money had to be returned to the State, due to the lack of a suitable location. In consultation with the Board of Education and the Superintendent’s Office, my administration successfully applied for a third grant to bring about a much-needed replacement for Harding.
The best suited location for the replacement is on the former General Electric site on Boston Avenue and Bond Street. The school site is being remediated to residential standards–the cleanest standards, with GE bearing the brunt of the cost. Once the site is remediated, GE will donate this land to the City.
This location was selected after a comprehensive review of available sites by the School Building Committee, upon which sit multiple representatives from the Board of Education. The GE site is the only site that is of adequate size to accommodate a modern campus, featuring a state-of-the-art athletic complex. The GE site is also just a quarter-mile away from the current site and centrally located in the school population catchment area. This is in line with one of our highest priorities for identifying a location for the Harding replacement–ensuring that we do not disrupt the school community.
Superintendent Vallas met with Harding High School parents and the Harding High School community as a whole several times. The City and the Board of Education listened to their concerns and have had experts available to answer all of their questions. These conversations with the community have been overwhelmingly positive. Another community meeting was scheduled for late January of this year but was cancelled by the Board of Education for no apparent reason.
Parents of the East Side and East End are enthusiastic about an opportunity to see a brand new, state-of-the-art school offering a modern campus which includes playing fields and community rooms that will be accessible to the neighborhood. This new campus will be on par with Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Campus, the newly opened high school in the North End. Along with access to the playing fields, the new campus will also be a significant improvement to the Mill Hill neighborhood.
This project has met many benchmarks. The schematic design and testing results of the site were brought to the School Building Committee and approved. The site was subsequently approved by the State Bureau of School Facilities in Hartford. We are now moving forward with Phase 1 of the site plan, which is currently before the Facilities Committee of the Board of Education.
As a parent of Bridgeport Public School students who live in the Harding High School catchment area, I too share the concerns that any parent would have when building a high school on a former industrial site.
The Facilities Committee meeting on Tuesday night was supposed to be an opportunity for the experts who are working on this project as well as representatives from the State’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to deliver the facts and present the plan that clearly shows that this school campus would be absolutely safe for students and teachers. Unfortunately, this is not what occurred. The committee chair allowed a small group of political operatives with ulterior motives to derail the process with innuendo and rhetoric and in some cases, completely inaccurate information.
I understand and respect the Board’s responsibility and authority. I encourage them to fully review the facts and move this project forward instead of allowing a handful of obstructionists to play politics with the future and well-being of our children. As a parent and our city’s leader, nothing is more important to me than the safety and well-being of our students. I am certain that this school will provide both a completely safe and innovative learning environment that the children of the East Side and East End deserve.