City moves forward on high school

After years of searching for a site, the city is moving forward with construction of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on College Street between Crown and George.

COOP, on which construction is slated to begin in Spring 2006, is a visual and performing arts magnet high school currently located on the corner of Trumbull and Orange streets, with rental performance space on Audobon Street. Its move to downtown New Haven will allow the consolidation of all the school’s facilities under one roof, as well as bring students closer to the cultural resources of the city and University.

The site, which has been approved by the New Haven Board of Education and the New Haven Board of Aldermen, occupies nearly half the block on College Street and borders the newly opened Hula Hank’s bar as well as the New Haven Hotel. Community members have voiced concern about a single mass occupying so much space, School Construction Program Coordinator Susan Weissenberg said.

“In response to the comments we’ve heard, we have tried to break up the building in a series of spaces,” Weissenberg said. “We are also working to minimize disturbance for our neighbors during construction activity.”

Other community concerns raised at a hearing Wednesday night include a lack of parking and traffic congestion. A surface parking garage will be eliminated with the school’s construction, and no parking is included in the school’s design.

The city conducted a parking study and found that it has the interim measures necessary to satisfy parking needs, New Haven Economic Development Administration member Lisa Grossman said.

“With all the other downtown redevelopment going on, such as bringing Gateway Community College and the Long Wharf Theater downtown, more parking lots will eventually be built,” Grossman said. “Until then, we are implementing some recommendations from our study.”

The local architecture firm Cesar Pelli and Associates is heading the COOP project. Although the school will be displacing Charlie’s Tires, Villa del Sol and Standard Cleaners, Pelli said he does not think any great pieces of architecture are being lost.

“The charm of College Street diminishes as you get to this area,” Pelli said. “This is a very important job to me, and I hope with all my heart that this will change with my design.”

Ward 7 Alderwoman Francis Clark, whose district skirted the old COOP location and includes the new one, said the high school students will serve as important additions to the newly developed downtown area.

“Merchants on Whitney and Audobon are going to miss COOP tremendously because students have been a huge economic factor down there,” Clark said. “But the new COOP is going to be a vibrant, active and participating member of the downtown community and will turn College Street into an exciting place.”

High school students from New Haven and its surrounding areas with an interest in the arts will be admitted to the COOP through a lottery system. Each student must commit to spending 25 percent of the school day studying either visual art, dance, theater, music or creative writing, and the rest of the day will be devoted to a full academic program. Enrollment is projected to begin at around 550 students when the school opens in 2008, and increase to 650 within the first few years.

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