CREC Drops $32M School Proposal After Hartford Planning & Zoning Defeat
The Museum Academy Will Be Moved Temporarily To Bloomfield
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
April 11, 2012
HARTFORD —— The Capitol Region Education Council is dropping its $32 million proposal to expand an elementary magnet school in the city's West End after the planning and zoning commission rejected its pitch for a zoning change.
"We're going to move forward and find another place for that school," CREC Executive Director Bruce Douglas said Wednesday.
CREC wanted to build a permanent home for its Museum Academy on the former Hartford College for Women site on Asylum Avenue, where 263 children in prekindergarten to third grade currently attend the school in space leased from the University of Hartford.
But the land's existing zone is a residential district of predominantly single-family homes. In order for the school to grow to 435 students — CREC envisions adding fourth and fifth grades — the area would need to be converted to a higher-density zone that allows schools.
Many West End residents who live near the site strongly opposed the change, arguing, in part, that traffic would increase, particularly the stretch of Asylum between Scarborough and Woodland streets that homeowner Linda Jorgensen described as "an absolute nightmare" during rush hour.
A consultant for CREC contended that the traffic impact would be minimal, and the West End Civic Association's executive board ultimately endorsed the project last month after a heated neighborhood meeting.
However, commissioners cited Hartford's "One City, One Plan" development strategy and the need to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood in shooting down CREC's proposal late Tuesday. The five-hour meeting drew several dozen residents, including those who supported the plan that would have restored three historic mansions on the 10.4-acre property.
The 7-0 vote killed the $6.9 million purchase agreement between CREC and the University of Hartford; the property sale was contingent on the commission's approval of the zoning change. The overall project was to be funded with state money.
This summer, CREC will temporarily move the Museum Academy to the J.P. Vincent Elementary School in Bloomfield, Douglas said. The Vincent school is closing and the education agency plans to lease the building from the town for $292,578 a year, according to the two-year deal.
Next school year, CREC expects to add fourth grade and another 100 students to the academy, which educates both city and suburban children under the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation agreement. One reason the West End site was considered ideal for the museum-themed school was its proximity to the Connecticut Historical Society on Elizabeth Street.
"Certainly it was a loss for children," Douglas said. But, he added, "it was a democratic process. It's how things are supposed to work... We'll look at other towns" and locations in Hartford.
The women's college, which moved to Asylum Avenue in the late 1950s, was "grandfathered" into the residential district that is home to Hartford's wealthiest families. It became part of the University of Hartford in 1991 and closed in 2003, although the university still uses some of the buildings for graduate housing and administrative offices.
University officials will now review its options for a property they have long sought to "dispose of," said John Carson, the vice president of university relations. A private residential development is "not economically feasible," he said.
One reason is the preservation of the historic properties. A CREC attorney estimated the rehabilitation would cost $17 million; the Hartford architectural firm Smith Edwards had been chosen for the work.
Historic preservation consultant Lucas Karmazinas, who lives in the West End, said he worried the buildings would continue to fall into disrepair after the commission's decision.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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