Residents and retailers at the intersection of Chapel and Howe streets can now breathe a sigh of relief — at least temporarily — after the New Haven City Plan Commission recommended Wednesday night that officials consider alternative sites for the relocation of a magnet arts high school.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, who organized community opposition to the construction, said she was glad city administrators “really heard” the neighborhood’s concerns and will now look into placing the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School (Co-op) elsewhere.
“I see the whole situation as a triumph for the community,” Chen said after listening to the commission’s recommendation. “People have organized and put their blood, sweat and tears into this issue — and they’ve succeeded so far.”
Over the past year, the Citywide School Building Committee has considered 25 potential sites for the Co-op, whose current Orange Street facility lacks sufficient arts space. But after the committee voted Oct. 22 to move the school to the block between Chapel, Howe and Edgewood streets, area residents and business owners — 13 of whom would have been displaced by the new building — began a campaign to fight the relocation.
At last night’s meeting, City Plan Department Executive Director Karyn Gilvarg cited the “fairly fierce opposition” from the neighborhood in proposing that the site be dropped from consideration. Gilvarg suggested the city focus on five other potential locations for the Co-op, including one near the SBC building on Audubon Street and one on York Street.
City officials initially chose the Chapel-Howe site because of its proximity to the Yale graduate art schools, Gilvarg said. The Co-op already has a working relationship with the School of Music and the Yale art galleries, and it is in the process of developing curricular partnerships with the schools of Drama and Architecture. Noting these programs, Gilvarg emphasized the importance of keeping the Co-op as close as possible to the arts schools.
“If we want to have a pre-eminent arts and humanities high school, it’s very important, as teenagers, for them to see [the arts] right in front of them,” Gilvarg said. “Whether or not they actually attend a class at the School of Drama isn’t as important as the fact that it’s there, and it’s available.”
Ann Haynes, a senior associate at Cesar Pelli, the architectural firm hired to design the school, said the smaller list of potential locations will make it easier for her to do an in-depth evaluation of the pros and cons of each site. But Haynes cautioned that after factors like traffic, existing businesses and budget concerns are all taken into account, no site will turn out to be perfect.
City Plan Commission Chairwoman Patricia King agreed, explaining that finding space for schools is “probably the hardest thing we do here.”
“Trying to locate a school anywhere is impossible,” she said. “To some extent we’re going to be comparing apples and oranges — it’s going to be a variety of factors that have to be considered.”
The City Plan Commission will now hand the issue back over to the Citywide School Building Committee, which will consider the five proposed sites and make further recommendations to the New Haven Board of Aldermen and Board of Education. In the meantime, local businesses like Mamoun’s and India Palace can relax — or at least hope they don’t make it back onto the list.
“They’re still wary,” Chen said of her constituents. “This is their livelihood, so — I don’t think they’re going to be able to sleep peacefully until [the city] actually starts construction at a different site.”