Plan for new school starts dispute

For some residents in the Hill North neighborhood, the construction of a new school will upend lives. Homes will be razed, and residents relocated out of one of New Haven’s most historic but blighted areas. For others, it promises to be exactly what the neighborhood needs.

The project to construct a new building to house Prince Welch School, part of a 10-year, $900 million plan to rebuild the city’s schools, encompasses a three and a half block radius including 61 lots, most of which are residential. Though the city has already acquired more than 70 percent of the lots and officials are confident that construction will soon begin, some residents remain unwilling to sell, charging that the city is offering them egregiously low prices and keeping them in the dark about the project.

A meeting last Wednesday between city officials and residents did little to resolve their differences, said Ruth Drews, the pastor of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in the Hill.

“I did not consider it very fruitful,” Drews said. “It is clear that the Board of Education is maintaining its stance that the project is too far along to stop it.”

The site was chosen because it was especially run-down, city officials said. And the city promised the school 20 years ago that it would have a new building.

But Drews said the school’s construction should not require the demolition of homes in a historic neighborhood.

“I still think there’s no reason to build the school here,” she said.

Others said the school could help revive a neighborhood in shambles. Sam Foster, a coordinator of property dispositions for New Haven’s Livable City Initiative, helped to draw up the site plans a few years ago. He called the area “drug infested, rodent infested.”

“This is historic property that has outlived its longevity,” Foster said. “What better than a school, then, on the site we’ve picked?”

Foster lives across the street from the construction site. His home will not be torn down.

Foster also disputed the claims of some residents that they have not been kept informed of meetings about the construction project.

“This has been a three-, four-year process with meeting after meeting after meeting to get to where we are now,” he said.

But Drews said the city is offering to pay some residents less than what their homes are worth. She added that the city assessed one home at $56,000 less than its market value.

Confusion remains over whether the Chicano Glory Church on Ward Street will need to move after its pastor discovered a month ago that by law the city cannot force a church out of its site. The pastor, Anna Roundtree, said the alternative sites the city picked out for her church were insulting.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Roundtree said. “The church that we have and what they showed — it was quite ridiculous.”

But city officials, including School Construction Program Coordinator Susan Weisselberg, said any residents displeased with the prices offered by the city could contest the assessed value of their properties before a judge.

Foster said he understood the frustration of the “people who’ve lived through all the pain” in the neighborhood who are now unhappy with prices offered to them. But he added that the market values of the neighborhood’s properties have plummeted.

“Everybody has taken a hit over in this area,” Foster said.

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