As the city moves forward with plans to relocate the Cooperative Arts & Humanities Magnet (Co-op) High School to Upper Chapel Street, local business owners and tenants are expressing concerns about the possibility of a drastically altered neighborhood.

The city-wide school building committee voted Oct. 22 to relocate the Co-op High School to Chapel and Howe streets from Orange Street, School Construction Program Coordinator Sue Weisselberg said. The new $52 million building will occupy the western half of the block surrounded by Howe, Edgewood, Park and Chapel streets, which now contain Yale Parking Lot 80 and various merchants.

If the plan is approved by the New Haven Board of Aldermen, Weisselberg said she hopes site clearing will begin in the fall of 2004. The school, which participates in numerous cooperative programs with Yale, could open as early as August 2006.

Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, director of communications for New Haven Public Schools, said the school could benefit the neighborhood in the same way that the part-time Educational Center for the Arts school has improved the Audubon Arts District.

“[Audubon] has become a real enclave for arts education, and that’s what we’re envisioning and hoping for in this section of Chapel,” she said. “It’s certainly happened for Audubon and we have every reason to believe that having arts-related youth in the Chapel West district is only going to benefit everybody.”

A neighborhood reacts

As the issue heads to the Board of Aldermen, Upper Chapel West district retailers and homeowners expressed concerns about Co-op’s proposed relocation — particularly the fact that current plans for the building would require 12 area businesses to move due to the principle of eminent domain.

Chiropractor Stephen Piserchia said news of the proposed relocation makes him “concerned and upset” not only for himself and the expense to his Chapel Street practice, but also for the vitality of the neighborhood.

“I don’t think the city has really thought about the ramifications of what the school is going to do — destroy the tax basis, destroy a revitalized neighborhood that it has already spent a lot of money and manpower on, and disrupt the whole traffic cycle,” Piserchia said.

Geraldine Cullinan, owner of Geraldine Florists on Upper Chapel Street, said she received a letter from the city on Oct. 16 saying that if plans for a new building are approved, she will have 90 days to relocate her business.

“This was just dumped on us,” Cullinan said. “There was nothing in the paper, no warning, no indication that anyone is looking [at the site].”

Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 echoed the tenants’ worries. She said that placing a school at Chapel and Howe Streets would destroy vital business and nightlife in the area.

“A school would shut down the streets at a very early hour and that’s the last thing we need right now,” she said. “The neighborhood is completely opposed to it — not just my neighbors, but the entire city.”

Chen said she is upset not only with the choice of the Upper Chapel West district as the new site for the Co-op, but also with the way in which the city made that choice.

“They’re already going for it as if it was a done deal, without talking to people in the area,” Chen said. “The idea that they made the decision themselves without input from the neighborhood is scary.”

Building a stronger bond

The school-based Building Advisory Committee considered three sites for the relocated Co-op School, including a downtown site and a location on Audubon near the SBC building. But Weisselberg said the Upper Chapel West district site is preferable because it offers more space than other proposed sites, and because its proximity to Yale would strengthen the existing partnership between the two institutions.

The Co-op High School already has a working relationship with Yale graduate arts schools. Collaborations include instrumental lessons by School of Music students and visual arts classes that meet at the British Art Gallery. The Co-op is also developing curricular partnerships with the School of Drama and the School of Architecture.

Co-op Arts Director Keith Cunningham said the school’s relationships with Yale have significantly enriched its curriculum, and that these collaborations would be enhanced if the high school were closer to campus.

“Geographically, it’s a tremendous opportunity. The closer we are physically, the easier it is to access the facilities and resources offered to us from Yale,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the Co-op High School’s current building on Orange Street is not sufficient to suit the school’s needs as an arts magnet high school. He said the school’s current facilities are “inadequate,” adding that it has no theater, no dance space and limited room for music and visual arts. If the school is moved to the Upper Chapel West district, the Co-op would be expanded from 60,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet.

Cesar Pelli, the architectural firm that will design the Co-op’s new building, is evaluating the school to determine its spatial needs and aesthetic incorporation into the neighborhood, Senior Associate Ann Haynes said.

“It will be a more refined, slightly more professional facility,” Haynes said.

Weisselberg added that the city is considering building retail space in the lower levels of the school building.

Looking ahead

As plans for the relocation move forward, Weisselberg said the city will need to consider the concerns of the site’s current tenants. She said the Board of Education will hold a series of community meetings and work with area retailers and businesses to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.

“We knew that identifying the site was only the beginning,” Weisselberg said. “We want to work with them in making a good neighborhood.”

Chen said she hopes to take on a greater role in the development of site plans for the school.

“I’m hoping to work together with the school construction committee,” Chen said. “I want them to consider the SBC site [located on Audubon].”

The relocation of the Co-op is part of New Haven’s $1.1 billion School Construction Program, which will renovate or rebuild 28 local schools over 10 years.

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