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A new Bassick is the option the state will fund

November 16, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — A brand new Bassick High School is the preferred option of the state, officials say.

The decision pleases many familiar with the protracted struggle to replace the city’s last comprehensive high school with something that is comparable to the environment most city high school students now enjoy.

“We always have history but we need a new Bassick,” Albert Benejan, president of Bassick’s Parent Teacher Student Organization.

The sentiment is not unanimous.

As options were laid out to the city school board this week, including a renovated-as-new option and a hybrid of old and new that would marry portions of the 1929 Georgian-style stone structure with a 21st century glass and steel open concept, board member Maria Pereira insisted the beauty of the school’s original building be preserved.

Designed by architect Ernest G. Southey, the 89-year-old building started out as a junior high school. It was set back from Fairfield and Clinton avenues and is now blocked by a second building, built in 1967. The two structures run parallel but the floors do not line up. They are connected by sky bridges.

The school also boasts an ornate, if undersized and not handicap-accessible, auditorium. It also has its original boilers — once fueled by coal — that are said to be the size of train cars.

“I don’t care about the addition but the original,” Pereira said. “I am shocked the state would decide to knock it down.”

Pereira later announced she has started an online petition to save the old Bassick building.

Other board members favor an entirely new building, saying it is time to stop living in the past, especially after hearing the state would pay nearly 80 percent of the $115 million price tag for a new structure.

“I am sure students want a brand new building,” said board member Joe Sokolovic.

“I love history, but new is the best option,” said board member Jessica Martinez. She suggested a statute in a courtyard of the new school be erected to pay homage to the past.

Board member Ben Walker added that architects could surely incorporate elements of the original building into the new design, similar to what was done with the new Harding High School across town.

A renovate-as-new project, said Joe Costa, an architect from Perkin Eastman, would repackage the school so it would work better but it would continue to feel like two separate buildings. It would require an extensive amount of remediation because of asbestos, mold and other contaminants and would leave the district with a square footage that is larger than the state will fund.

With a projected enrollment of 1,050, the state will only provide reimbursement for 221,000 square feet, nearly 30,000 less than now exists on the 8-acre site. All three options call for 41 traditional classrooms and spaces devoted to manufacturing, automotive, culinary, performing arts and medical, and the school’s rooftop observatory.

The hybrid option, which would preserve the historic portion of Bassick and replace the newer building with a snazzier, more functional addition, would also present design challenges, architects warned. The columned front entrance to the school would become part of the interior space.

“It would be more efficient than renovat(ion) but less than (a) new school,” Joe Banks, a Perkin Eastman architect, said.

The new school would be situated so that it has a stronger connection to the street. The classroom wing would be three stories, the common areas a single story.

“It would work more fluidly ... not piecemeal,” the architect said.

None of the options provide what some want most: on-site athletic fields. Two of the options offer the possibility of rooftop practice fields, though architects labeled that as impractical.

It also seems the city stands to lose state reimbursement on the roof of the new construction, since a portion of Bassick’s leaky roof was replaced two years ago.

Larry Schilling, a city program manager for the construction project, told the board its approval was not necessary for the project to proceed to the state by a Dec. 1 deadline. Neither was approval needed from the city’s School Building Committee, which canceled a scheduled presentation of the project on Thursday because of the weather.

“I don’t know anything that would limit the city to do what it wants to do,” Schilling said.

If all goes as planned, construction could begin by next summer. The school board has yet to determine where Bassick students will go during construction.

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