City Shows Off Plans For A 'New' Weaver High School
Vanessa De La Torre
December 03, 2010
A substantially new Weaver High School would have academies in the culinary arts and hospitality, health sciences and possibly architecture.
It would resemble a college campus, both in design and in a potential partnership with the neighboring University of Hartford.
And this time, Weaver would have classroom windows, school officials said this week as they presented plans to overhaul the penitentiary-style building on Granby Street by the summer of 2015.
"More open light … and more windows," said Alex Nardone, the schools' chief operating officer. "I think that is key."
"This is essentially a concrete block," Assistant Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said as she showed an aerial photo of Weaver to several dozen educators, parents and city officials gathered Wednesday in the school's auditorium. "You try to count the number of windows in here."
Administrators estimate that renovating the 370,000-square-foot Weaver "as new" will cost up to $150 million, and that construction on the North End school, which sits on nearly 29 acres, could begin in the spring of 2013.
Those plans, however, are heavily dependent on state funding. School officials said they anticipate approvals from the city board of education and council in February and May, respectively, before applying for state money around June 2011. They hope to receive the state's OK for a construction grant in July 2012; the design process would start that fall.
In their first detailed, public remarks on the Weaver proposal, administrators also said they want to reduce the building's existing square footage — "carving slices out of it," one official said — in exchange for more windows and natural light.
Jack Butkus, director of Hartford's school construction program, said that could involve demolishing sections of the building and transforming it with curves and "a good deal of glass." For example, one idea calls for connecting three proposed academies within the larger Weaver structure with a glass walkway.
"We can humanize the building and make it more inviting," Butkus said.
The "old" Weaver, as some folks call it, opened on Ridgefield Street in 1923. Named after Thomas Snell Weaver, the Hartford schools superintendent from 1900 to 1920, it became the high school and pride of generations of North End residents. Weaver then moved to the large Granby Street property in 1974.
The building has a few external windows for school offices, plus Plexiglass stairwells that muddle the sunlight and offer students no view of the outside. "It is a prison-like building," Kishimoto said.
The deterioration of Weaver's image has mirrored school achievement. Weaver is one of the state's lowest-performing schools. A few years ago, before it was divided into smaller academies as part of reform efforts, Weaver had roughly 1,200 students and 500 would be absent on any given day, Superintendent Steven Adamowski said.
Now it's down to about 900 students, and city school officials envision a post-renovation enrollment of 1,400 to 1,600 — large enough to include three specialized academies with "college-ready" curriculum, as well as a competitive athletics program. Kishimoto said the University of Hartford is open to a "grade 9 to 16" concept for Weaver that would be similar to the partnership between the Learning Corridor and Trinity College.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said the next city budget he presents will include funding for the Weaver renovation, which he views as a chance to involve and motivate the community "instead of having people feel that they are being phased out or forgotten."
A second public forum on the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Weaver auditorium. This week's meeting was met with a smattering of hope and skepticism from the residents who attended.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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