With 45 possible sites suggested for the controversial relocation of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School, New Haven residents voiced their opinions at the New Haven City Plan Commission special meeting and public hearing Wednesday night.
The original proposed site on Chapel and Howe sparked controversy because — according to the principle of eminent domain — it would displace up to 15 neighborhood businesses. The City Plan Commission scheduled last night’s meeting after overwhelming criticism and protest from businesses and residents in the area, Board of Education School Construction Program Coordinator Susan Weisselberg said.
“The reaction to the Chapel and Howe sight came swiftly and quite loudly, so we have decided to reevaluate our choices,” she said. “We are eager to hear the opinions of the public, and that’s what tonight is for.”
The Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, which is now located on Orange and Bradley, has none of its own art facilities. Architects from Cesar Pelli and Associates, the firm constructing the new school, said they are searching for a site of at least two acres that will include a theater and visual arts display space.
Two representatives from the firm, Fred Clarke and Anne Haynes, spoke about the key elements that must be considered in choosing the site.
“Proximity to the arts is probably the most important criteria because the arts will then be integrated as a daily part of students’ lives,” Haynes said. “We must keep in mind that we are talking about more than just another high school.”
But City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg discussed some of the problems arising from the school’s construction.
“Because our city is already so built up, it is hard to find any spaces for new projects, and those few available are not big enough,” Gilvarg said. “Each new school site comes at the cost of some other use, whether now or in the future, so there is probably no win-win sight for this project.”
After the presentations, members of the audience expressed their views regarding the site’s location, with a majority endorsing the site on Audobon and Orange Streets. Ward 7 Alderwoman Francis Clark said the Audobon site, which is located in her area, would be ideal because of its proximity to numerous centers for the arts .
“The school would be a great asset to the neighborhood, increasing the livelihood of the street and benefitting the businesses in the area,” Clark said.
Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School Arts Director Keith Cunningham urged the community to support the project and to make a prompt decision so the construction can begin.
“Wherever we are located, we are eager for a positive and productive relationship with our neighbors,” Cunningham said. “This will be a school not only for the students, but for the surrounding community.”
The biggest opponent to the Audobon site is SBC Communications, whose parking lot is the proposed site of construction. Executive Director of External Affairs John Emra argued on behalf of the company for the importance of preserving the lot.
“What appears to be no more than a parking lot to some is in fact the key to the continued presence of SBC’s Connecticut headquarters operations within the city of New Haven,” Emra said.
City Plan Commission Chairwoman Patricia King said they would consider the testimony and make a final decision to present to the city-wide school building commission in a meeting on Feb. 18.