June 14 - 21, 2006
Column By KEN KRAYESKE, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Hartford needs more schools. Mayor Eddie Perez has shown he can build them.That is what scares me about his reckless proposal to construct the Pathways to Technology magnet high school on the southeast corner of Farmington Avenue and Broad Street.
Every time I try to imagine 500 students streaming out the front doors into that intersection, I wonder what special interests are pushing Perez towards this mistake. This is a public policy blunder of “Let’s-build-a-police-station-on-Jennings-Road” proportions.
Better solutions exist, and we should explore them fully.
Perez sold his idea to the Asylum Hill NRZ based the city’s ownership of that triangular patch of land, according to what I heard at the NRZ meeting last week.
When people at the NRZ meeting learned that the state, and not the city, owned the land, they weren’t happy. It looks unlikely that our state legislators will fight for the state to deed that land to the city. Good.
The city should examine more fully the Hawthorn Street site or a similar vacant lot where 10,000 cars don’t pass every morning.
Whatever happened to City Councilman Bob Painter’s idea of a learning corridor on North Main Street? Perez seems to want us to forget anything but his ideas. His chorus on the Farmington/Broad school project includes urban planner Ken Greenberg. By blessing a $5 million traffic improvement plan, Greenberg is offering his opinion as ammunition in a political battle, and that makes me question his vaunted judgement.
That $5 million – if that figure can even be said to be real because the DOT can’t paint a line for less than $5 million – might be better spent on books, teachers and learning aids, instead of fixing a road so a sophomore can walk out and get run over by one of the regularly passing tractor trailers.
My rant to the NRZ board focused on how City Council passed a resolution stating all new school buildings would be LEED Certified. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification guarantees an environmentally, energy friendly building that will pay for itself in savings and I advocated for and applauded City Council’s decision in this space previously.
But because of land’s proximity to Interstate 84, the proposed high school would need noise and pollution abatement features which would make LEED certification impossible. So City Council made a rule, and the Mayor ignores it.
The Mayor seems to ignore common sense, as the Broad-Farmington site has no place for athletic fields and little room for parking.
How can the city consider building a high school without playing fields? Sports Sciences Academy in downtown struggles with this situation, and repeating this mistake would be, well, stupid.
At the NRZ meeting, someone said that the new school could use Bushnell Park or the athletic facilities at Hartford Public High School.
Bushnell Park is not an answer. I walked around the park Sunday, June 11, and the grass did not look like it was going to recover from the recent Race for the Cure. Bushnell Park isn’t designed to withstand daily football and soccer practices.
And if the new school will utilize the Hartford Public fields, why not just build it on the Hawthorn Street site?
But Perez won’t hear it. The Board of Education laid down eight conditions for siting new buildings. Perez added a ninth: thou shalt not take a property off the tax rolls.
Even though the owners of the Hawthorn Street site owe more than a million in back taxes, Perez calls that revenue.
Perez is also probably thinking that suburban parents won’t let their kids near South Marshall. Another high school to flank South Marshall would improve that neighborhood by creating a Learning Corridor effect. The Learning Corridor shares security with Hartford Hospital.
What if Aetna chipped in some of its security, expanding its patrols to work with the new school to scrub South Marshall? Or what if Aetna traded parking lots with the city for a better location on Hawthorn?
One of the reasons Perez has championed the Broad and Farmington site is its proximity to insurance companies, so that students could walk to internships.
The educational theory of this new magnet school seems centered around experiential learning as a vehicle to train students as good workers.The purpose of public schools is to produce thinking citizens and not corporate cogs.
Siting a school based on potential work-study opportunities strikes me as poor educational policy. Suppose one of those insurance companies picked up and left like MassMutual? The lessons of Fraser Place must be applied to education.
How about we build an entreprenuerial magnet school that trains its students to make their own opportunities?And that is what this debate is about: can the city make an opportunity out of a troubled intersection and a difficult patch of land? Absolutely. Building a park there is a step forward. Putting a school there would be 10 steps backwards. This school proposal demonstrates the danger presented by Perez chairing the school building committee and the Board of Education. He seems to be the only oner who will gain by it.
The only consensus building around this stinky deal is the will to stop it. People all over the city are against it. Add your voice. Call Mayor Perez (543-8500) by June 20 and tell him what you think.