The stained carpet at Martin Luther King School will be gone when students arrive in late August.
The damaged and missing ceiling tiles are also being replaced, the out-of-order bathrooms will be functional, and cracks in the walls patched up as part of $300,000 worth of improvements this summer at the elementary school that was last renovated in 1977.
The upgrades come after Asylum Hill neighborhood advocates complained to the Hartford school system about the conditions at M.L. King, which enrolls about 400 children up to eighth grade in the city's North End.
The advocates had a personal interest: West Middle Elementary School will be closed for a $54.6 million renovation over the next two years. Starting with the 2013-14 year, a group of West Middle students will be temporarily relocated to the aging M.L. King building.
"It was not well-kept, not well-maintained," said Tiana Hercules, who was president of West Middle's parent-teacher organization last school year and has toured M.L. King, on Ridgefield Street.
"Now it's much better," Hercules said. "That's the important thing. They did what they said they were going to do."
Schools spokesman David Medina said in a statement that the summer improvements include "painting, re-carpeting, rehabilitating bathrooms and creating additional classroom space to accommodate the incoming students."
West Middle kindergarten students will be taught on the ground level of M.L. King, while first to fourth grades will be located on the building's second floor. The school, built in the early 1920s as the original home of Weaver High School, can hold up to 1,000 students, according to the district.
Across the road on Greenfield Street, Achievement First Hartford Academy charter school will be sharing space with West Middle's fifth- to eighth-grade students in the former Lewis Fox Middle building.
The renovation and expansion of West Middle is expected to be completed by June 2015. The school on Asylum Avenue was built in 1894 and will feature a new Mark Twain public library branch, which will have a separate entrance, when it reopens.
In April, the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association sent a letter to Superintendent Christina Kishimoto requesting improvements at M.L. King after taking a tour of the school in March.
"During the tour, we were surprised by the intolerable conditions of many parts of the building," stated the letter signed by group leaders and Hercules. "In order to provide peace of mind, trust, and reassurance to our parents and other stakeholders, we respectfully request that all of the major repairs be substantially completed by early August 2013."
They attached a list of more than two dozen "issues to be addressed." Among the complaints: graffiti, "all rodent traps should not be exposed to the public," "one drinking fountain is loose from the wall" and "hole in window in 2nd floor classroom needs to be fixed."
On Wednesday, graffiti was still visible on the western side of M.L. King that faces Blue Hills Avenue.
Bernie Michel, a project coordinator for the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, said that the district is "making a lot of progress."
Another walk-through of the building is scheduled for Wednesday, said Michel, who attended a recent tour. "They really went through and triaged and said, 'This is what needs to be done so kids can be educated here for the next two years.' "
"It's important that we show our kids that we care by keeping the school maintained," Hercules said.
While M.L. King School still needs extensive work -- new windows, for starters -- the district is planning a $68 million renovation at King that could begin in 2016 if state funding is approved, Medina said.
For King students, there will be another change for the school year that begins Aug. 27. Their new acting principal is Doreen Crawford, who is replacing retired Principal Baxter Atkinson, Medina said.
Crawford recently led Jumoke Academy at Milner School, which is part of the state Commissioner's Network, and was previously the longtime principal of the Jumoke charter school in Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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