Some Ask Whether Issues Should Have Been Raised Earlier
January 17, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
The architect hired to design the renovation and expansion of Kinsella Magnet School for the Arts unveiled drawings Monday morning that gave the city's School Building Committee its first detailed look at exterior views and floor plans.
Then the flood of questions began - many that typically would have been addressed far earlier in the process, before architects were even brought in, and some that spelled frustration.
Plans for the school were worked out by a Kinsella committee and approved by the state Department of Education. And many of the questions raised Tuesday echoed back to that phase.
First, committee member Elizabeth Brad Noel wanted to know where the foreign language rooms were. There aren't any, principal Pamela Totten-Alvarado said, because the way the school's schedule works, special classrooms aren't required.
Another committee member questioned the need for a "black box theater" - a simple, unadorned space, typically painted black and made versatile by seating that can be rearranged. Why include it, the member wondered, when the building already has an auditorium and the layout of black box space often makes it difficult for the audience to exit without disrupting the show.
Then Superintendent Stephen J. Adamowski suggested replacing the existing gym with a black box theater and letting dance classes suffice as physical education. Noel, who is also on the school board, scoffed at the suggestion that dance replace gym class.
Then Adamowski expressed concern about creating computer labs that wouldn't easily convert to other uses. The current trend, he said, is to put computers in classrooms rather than set them apart in special computer rooms.
Totten-Alvarado said the computer labs satisfied an edict handed down by the school system's central office before Adamowski became schools' chief in November. Adamowski held to the view that computer labs should convert easily to another use.
Finally, the issue of enrollment came up.
The architect, Daniel Davis of Fletcher, Thompson, said one of the biggest expenses on a tight budget was for contractors to work in a complex schedule of phases, working around students because there is nowhere to move them during construction.
Totten-Alvarado said the school just held an open house to attract new students, and she expects to add about 100 next year.
"This is a great example of our usual great planning," Adamowski said sarcastically. "It's logical to freeze enrollment right now."
The architect stood silent.
Finally, James A. Keaney Jr., director of the program manager's office that oversees school construction, attempted to rein in the discussion.
"This conversation is not typical at this stage," Keaney said. Questions about a school's program are usually asked and answered before the district prepares a proposal for the state Department of Education.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of both the building committee and school board, said the questions are better posed now than after the school is built. Otherwise, he said, the project will likely run over budget in much the same way Hartford Public High School did, in part as a result of changes after construction was completed.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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