A move to block Bassick to old Harding is underway

May 16, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Not everyone is sold on the idea of making the old Harding High School the temporarily new Bassick High School.

City Council member Edeina Martinez, who represents the 139 district where the old Harding is located on Central Avenue, is so opposed to idea, she has promised to picket in front of the new vacant building if necessary.

“As an elected official on the East End I will be setting up a protest to prohibit this movement,” Martinez said on Thursday. “This is totally unacceptable.”

The city school board, on Monday, voted to ask the city council to bond $2.5 million, enough to bring the 251,600-square foot facility up to the point it can be reopened once Bassick is torn down and rebuilt in a year.

They did so at the request of a city council committee that wanted assurances the district intended to use the old Harding beyond the two years it would be a temporary space for Bassick.

Plans for a new $115 million Bassick are in the hands of the state, with the state legislature expected to foot as much as 70 percent of the project.

A search for another place to put the 884 students attending Bassick, reportedly came up empty.

Despite its own concerns that putting West side teens on the East side is not safe given the level of gang violence in the city, a majority of the board voted to move ahead with the plan.

At the same time, Hernan Illingworth, chair of the board’s facilities committee, said he would consult with city police to develop a security plan for the move. The thought is that Bassick students will be bused in and out of the city’s East End each day.

Martinez said that is not good enough.

“The city needs to come up with an alternative,” she said, noting that perhaps there is a vacant, city owned building that could be used. She also floated the idea of putting Bassick students in one wing of the old school while construction commences on the the other.

When students and staff were left in Central High School as it was renovated, it was deemed by the board and city’s school building committee as a huge mistake because it lead to cost over-runs, unhealthy conditions and tacked years on to the construction timetable.

Beyond safety concerns, Martinez said that a new Harding was build because the old one had rodents and health issues including mold. If the building wasn’t good enough for Harding students. how can it be good enough for Bassick students, she asked.

City Council Member Ernest Newton, who also represents the 139th, agreed.

“I think it’s a bad idea one reason: our City has become territorial,” Newton said.

He suggested the city look to the University of Bridgeport or Housatonic Community College for swing space.

Last fall, George Estrada, a vice president of facilities at UB, said the south end campus is full.

“As for space, we are at capacity and actually struggling with scheduling at times,” Estrada said. “The days of empty are long gone.”

Albert Benejan, a parent leader at Bassick is also not happy with the proposed placement.

“I want a better place to have all the students,” Benejan said. “Thanks Mrs. Martinez.”

Martinez said she has gotten at least 40 calls and email messages decrying the planned move.

She added there are other council members prepared to reject the funding request.

School Board Chairman John Weldon said Thursday if Council Member Martinez can find an alternative location for Bassick students, he is open to hearing about it.

“As it stands, 1735 Central Avenue is the only building we have access to that would fulfill that need,” Weldon said. “I am confident the district will be able to work out any issues related to the logistics of such a temporary relocation including those related to safety and transportation.”

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck