Monday, April 14, 2008

No one will be cooped up here

‘Flagship’ school project beginning to take shape

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— Nearly two years into work at the downtown Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School site, the “flagship” of the citywide school construction project is beginning to take form.
Steel frames inside the 145,000-square-foot giant mark the school’s still stairless main stairwell, sweeping up through beams and plywood.
On the first floor, work has begun on the gymnasium, cafeteria and lecture hall. A separate grand entrance off the corner of College and Crown streets leads to a 65-foot-high theater with 350 seats, an orchestra pit and professional lighting and sound systems, including accommodations for flying scenery.
A corner dance studio with floor-to-ceiling windows looks out onto College and Crown businesses from the second floor. Space has been carved out for graphic design labs, soundproof music practice rooms and choral rehearsal space.
The third floor houses the school’s traditional classrooms.
The building is the first high school designed by architectural giant Cesar Pelli, and he has left a personal and local touch on the school’s windows.
Large double-plated windows, as shown above, encasing the building are ceramic-coated with silk-screened maple, beech and elm leaves photographed by Pelli at East Rock Park.
The $69 million school is the most ambitious of the city’s $1.5 billion project to rebuild and renovate all school structures.
“This is the flagship project,” said Tom Roger, school construction program director with Gilbane Construction.
Roger said the “project has paid a penalty because of its location downtown,” where there is scarce space for construction material storage, and acquiring land for the project required lengthy eminent domain battles, only recently resolved. Roger estimated the downtown location increased the budget by as much as five percent to 10 percent.
Even so, school officials envisioned the city’s arts magnet school downtown, connected to theaters and museums and the downtown arts community.
“It just seemed to make sense to be downtown. Not only to serve our students, but to serve a lot of others,” said city school construction coordinator Sue Weisselberg.
“It will expand arts facilities downtown in an arts district. If Long Wharf ends up on the Coliseum site, it ends up being a real nice nucleus,” said Roger.
Students at the current school site on Orange Street, near the Audubon Arts District, take advantage of theater and arts spaces there, but Principal Dolores M. Garcia-Blocker looks forward to next year when her students won’t have to “schlep” to classes.
“Just the fact of having arts spaces in one building will change things dramatically,” she said.
The larger location (about two-and-a-half times the school’s current site) will allow the perennially-popular school to increase enrollment from 425 students to 650.
Construction is expected to wrap up in late 2008, allowing students to move into the new school in January 2009.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or

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