Local school breaks ground

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Photo by Tasnim Elboute.

On Tuesday morning, construction began on an additional school building for Common Ground, a community center and high school complex.

The project will allow Common Ground — a complex that includes a high school, community center and farm — to double its space available for education and grow from 180 students to 225. It will also upgrade all facilities and increase the school’s sustainability efforts. Yale contributed approximately $15,000 to the fundraising goal of $10.2 million, said Melissa Spear FES ’94, the executive director of Common Ground.

“We never have a lull here, and we need more space,” said Kimball Cartwright, the capital campaign manager.

The current Common Ground campus is known for environmental education, which makes it a natural partner for Yale, Spear said. Joel Tolman, director of development and community engagement, added that Yale and Common Ground have “lots of deep and strong” connections, particularly through the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

This expansion is also a resource for the Yale community Tolman said, because Common Ground has many unique initiatives that are not available in other parts of New Haven.

The bulk of the funding for the $8 million project comes from state funding sources, including the Department of Education and the Clean Energy Finance, which will fund the construction’s sustainable features, Spear said. She added that approximately $1.5 million so far comes from private donations.

Though Yale contributed to the fundraising goal, the connections between Yale and Common Ground are beyond financial; many graduates contribute to the Center, university professors’ children participate in the Center’s community activities, and there is collaboration between the Yale Sustainable Food Project and Common Grounds on the site’s urban farm. The farm also applies Yale’s research on sustainability and food justice to their work, said Liz Cox, director of Common Ground High School.

This expansion will include two state-of-the-art science labs, an art lab and a large multipurpose area, Cox said. The multipurpose space will be used for music productions, theater productions, youth field trips, environmental education programs and a basketball court, Cox said.

This expansion will allow more students the opportunity to attend Common Ground said Jesus Reyes, a junior at Common Ground High School.

“I love it here; I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t here,” Reyes said. He added that he has enjoyed the nature immersions, like skiing or camping trips, offered through Common Ground and would love to see more students experience them.

The building will have multiple features to increase its sustainability including geothermal heating and cooling, and solar panels on the roof. Seventy percent of the electricity the building requires, including the energy for geothermal power, will be generated by the structure itself, said Cartwright. The building frame will be constructed with specially engineered timber that will aid in energy efficiency, Cartwright added.

“We’re trying to take everything that we’re doing and turn it into a learning opportunity for our high school students,” Cartwright said.

Common Ground Center is able to accommodate approximately 10,000 people per year including students and community members, but that number will increase to 12,000 people after the project’s completion.

Correction: Oct. 16

A previous version of this article misstated the amount of money Yale invested as $10,000, when it was in fact $15,000.

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