Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez acted recklessly in ordering construction to begin on a magnet school while the status of the site - a small, triangular patch of ground at Farmington Avenue and Broad Street - is still in dispute.
Mr. Perez is defiantly moving ahead against the wishes of Gov. M. Jodi Rell and state legislators from Hartford and possibly contrary to deed restrictions that are part of the conveyance of the land from the state to the city. This headlong rush by the mayor to start building the Pathways to Technology interdistrict magnet school could cause Hartford taxpayers to eat the considerable amount of money already sunk in site preparation work if the school is built elsewhere. Further, Mr. Perez's hasty action might cost Hartford the 95 percent state reimbursement for the $38 million project.
That's too high a cost for local taxpayers to pay for the mayor's stubbornness and bad judgment.
In the first place, this is a terrible location for a school. It would be hard to imagine a worse one. The site is a tiny isolated island, not big enough to hold a school, bounded by two high-traffic-volume streets and sloping down to I-84 on the third side. As it is, pedestrians take their lives in their hands crossing the busy streets. Traffic is snarled there during rush hours; it whizzes by at other times. Imagine adding several hundred students to the mix.
In a letter to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Mrs. Rell reiterated her support of efforts to expand magnet school opportunities in Hartford but said she believes the site picked by the mayor for Pathways "poses significant and troubling safety and traffic concerns and is not at all an appropriate location for a school. In fact, its potential risk to students, teachers and staff alike and its potential to aggravate already overburdened traffic patterns make it wholly unsuitable for an institution of learning."
Well said, Mrs. Rell. In a rather insulting reply to the governor Wednesday, Mr. Perez said Mrs. Rell's position "raises serious doubts about your commitment to desegregating Hartford schools." What needless bridge-burning on the mayor's part.
Mr. Perez says that through planning now underway, traffic will be tamed. But nothing he could do would make the triangular patch big enough to hold a comfortably sized school, plus parking and outdoor amenities.
Mr. Perez has rushed ahead with groundbreaking despite uncertainty about the conditions under which the state deeded the intended Pathways site to the city. Hartford can have the parcel on the condition it be used for one of three public purposes: a park, a public safety complex or for economic development. Otherwise, the land would revert to the state.
The mayor has seized on the last of the three to argue that the school meets the deed restrictions. The magnet school amounts to economic development, he reasons, because construction of the school will create jobs and because the students it trains will help Connecticut businesses compete in the global economy. That's a stretch. Under that interpretation, anything built on the site would amount to economic development.
Mr. Blumenthal has not yet issued a requested ruling on whether the Pathways school qualifies as economic development under the terms of the deed. We don't see how he could possibly agree with the mayor. But even if he does, the school should not be built at Farmington and Broad. It is simply a bad location for students, and their safety should be the top priority.
Mr. Perez has done many good things as Hartford's chief executive under the strong-mayor charter. But blasting ahead on this awful school site regardless of the consequences is not one of them. He should call off the earth movers, quit insulting state officials and pick another location for Pathways.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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