School needs room to perform

Branford resident Selby Jacobs ’61 enjoyed listening to jazz as a Yale undergraduate and always dreamed of being able to play the saxophone. For the past nine years, the 61-year-old has been fulfilling his ambition by taking lessons at Audobon Street’s Neighborhood Music School.

“If you told me nine years ago I would be able to improvise on the saxophone, I would have been highly skeptical,” Jacobs said. “The school is as good for a 59-year-old as it is for a 19-year-old.”

But after 33 years in its current building, the 90-year-old non-profit music school’s facilities are not keeping up with its ambitious programs. State Reps. Patricia Dillon and Peter Villano proposed legislation last week to provide $3.5 million in bonding for structural upgrades, code compliance and expansion.

“The school is bursting at the seams, and our preschool and summer camps typically have waiting lists,” said Jane Christe, the school’s development director. “The expansion will give us more space for our activities.”

The school, which offers instruction in voice, dance and 30 instruments, plans to expand its recital hall and office space. The space increases will allow the school to accommodate the growing number of students. The school is the largest of its kind in the state.

“The school is a great equalizer in that the students share the common language of music,” Christe said. “By teaching all age and skill levels, we help to break down barriers.”

School officials said the 30,000-square-foot facility will also need important structural upgrades to ensure the safety of the school’s 3,000 students and 110 faculty members. Expected improvements include the replacement of single-paned windows, increased handicap access and new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. acknowledged the importance of the legislation and New Haven’s art community.

“The Neighborhood Music School is a regional asset that serves both the city and outside the city,” DeStefano said. “This is a justifiable thing for the state to do, because the school has sought very little support over the years.”

DeStefano added that the project is among the priorities that New Haven’s city administration and community leaders will present to Gov. John Rowland.

Despite early enthusiasm for the project, there are still many obstacles for the legislation to overcome. The state’s education committee held a public hearing March 28 to determine if the bill has merit and heard testimony from school administrators, students and legislators.

If the education committee votes for the bill, the issue becomes part of the larger bond package that must be approved by the state Legislature and Rowland.

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Barbara Wexelman
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