Preservation society will not oppose arts high school

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Construction of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in downtown New Haven is one step closer to completion after a key preservationist group’s decision not to wage a legal battle to prevent the demolition of a historic building to clear way for the school.

Connecticut’s historical preservation council voted last Wednesday not to ask Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ’73 to prevent demolition of a historical building located on the proposed high school’s construction site, allowing the plans for the 150,000 square foot building to go forward. Developers are now proceeding with designs for the school, which they hope will jump start revitalization of the area surrounding the school, although some preservation groups said they are unsure how the school’s presence will improve the nearby community.

After the council learned construction for the new school would involve the demolition of 230-232 Crown St., a building listed on the National Register of Historical Sites which currently houses Club Image, members considered taking the fight to preserve the building to the courts, but ultimately felt the outcome would not be worth the potential legal costs, historical preservation council member Susan Chandler said.

“The law provides protection in cases where the destruction is unreasonable, and the council did not feel that the [demolition of the buildings on the Arts COOP site] was unreasonable,” Chandler said.

The state historical preservation council has the power to ask Blumenthal to oppose demolition of a historical building under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, which prevents demolition of historical buildings and the abuse of natural resources. Under the act, other groups may still petition Blumenthal to stop demolition, although Chandler said she was not aware of any other groups that have done so.

Architects for the new school examined the possibility of incorporating the historic building into the proposed site for the COOP, but determined it was not a feasible option, said Anne Haynes, an architect at Cesar Pelli and Associates, the firm that is designing the new building.

“It’s such a packed site,” she said. “It’s much too small of a site to accommodate the existing facade and building with the new facilities.”

Haynes also said she thinks the mixture of the new buildings with the old facade of the historical building would have been aesthetically unpleasing.

“It [would just look like] a postage stamp that been stuck on the face of something different,” Haynes said.

But some local preservation groups like the New Haven Town Green Special Services District said they are disappointed the building will be demolished. Scott Healy ’96, who heads the organization, said his group opposes demolition of the landmark and may push for alternate solutions such as incorporating the COOP into the existing building.

“I think in a city like New Haven that has lost certain historic streetscapes, each building becomes more and more valuable as time goes on,” Healy said.

The future home of COOP will incorporate academic classrooms, a full-sized gym, a cafeteria, a library and media center, as well as a range of arts facilities — including a 350 seat theater that can be used as a lecture hall, a black box theater, dance studios, and exhibition spaces. The COOP will stay open past school hours and will be available for other community groups to use, Haynes said.

“By putting a building in a location that has been a surface parking lot for a considerable number of years … this type of building — because it has a mixed use of activities — will actually help knit together the downtown district,” she said. “It will help provide for pedestrian walking, something that’s friendly, something that’s open, something that really brings populations downtown.”

In an effort to foster more downtown activicty, the COOP will also provide space for retailers, such as coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores, Haynes said.

Healy said he sees the potential for the COOP to revitalize downtown but stressed that the Board of Education will have to ensure that they provide round the clock programming for the school in order for it to serve as a community center. Schools are limited from an urban development standpoint because they operate during school hours, Healy said.

“If students and their parents really use that building and make it a center for the community … that [would] create a multiplier effect [downtown],” Healy said. “It’s just not clear to me that schools always do that.”

Construction on the COOP is slated to begin in the spring of 2006. The school is currently located on the corner of Trumbull and Orange Streets and rents performance space on Audobon Street. The new site on Crown Street will bring all the school’s facilities under one roof, as well as bring students closer to downtown and the University.

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