BRISTOL - The city is making progress on the proposed transformation of the old Memorial Boulevard School into an arts magnet school.
Deputy School Superintendent Susan Moreau said school officials are asking the city to form a building committee to oversee the project.
“Members of the staff will then start working on education specifications, which are actually due to the state by Election Day, so we have a very small window on this,” she said.
“It’s really important that we get all of these things in line, so that we can go on what’s called the priority list for approval of funds,” she said. “Hopefully that will be done in December.”
The proposal is for an arts magnet school for grades 6 through 12, which local students could attend free of charge through a lottery system, with out-of-town students paying tuition.
Moreau said local officials joined Konstantine Diamantes, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services, and representatives of the State Department of Education for a recent tour of the school and its 750-seat theater.
“We brought them into the theater first, where they were thrilled,” she said. “They could not believe that a theater like this still existed, particularly with the balcony and mezzanine sections. We walked through just about every square inch of that building, including the area where there once was a swimming pool. They felt we should open that pool again, because so many urban children never learn to swim and we only have one indoor community pool here.”
They felt “this is really an ideal environment to revitalize for this community,” she said.
Moreau said the curriculum would encompass “fine arts, music, theater arts, and also related careers.”
“A lot of our kids think about the talent out front, but if you go to a Broadway show, there are 10 times as many people behind the stage as there are on it - people who have written the play, directed the play, produced the play, designed the costumes, made the costumes, put on the theatrical makeup, designed the sets and so on,” she said.
“I hope when it’s revitalized that you’ll have the opportunity to really enjoy how marvelous a building this is, and how marvelous the theater is,” she told the Board of Education. “I am thrilled at the opportunity to be involved in a project like this.”
She recalled her time as principal of the old Bingham Elementary School, which was designated as a Higher Order Thinking (HOT) School by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. The HOT School program promotes teaching using the arts.
“I was able in that very small school to bring amazing opportunities to our students, so that when I see them to this day they think back to those opportunities and what that did for them in their individual growth,” she said. “So stay tuned. We’re going to be working pretty hard to get these deadlines met, but we’re excited.”
The Board of Finance recently appropriated $325,000 for schematic design of the arts magnet school. The money is intended to show the city’s commitment and will only be spent if the state awards a grant to renovate the school, said Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson.
The city has also approved $13.3 million for the first phase of a plan to renovate the school’s theater for use as a community cultural center.
Memorial Boulevard School was the city’s high school when it opened in 1921. In 1967, it became a junior high school, and then a middle school, until it closed at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
A task force to raise funds for and oversee the renovation and preservation of the building was organized in 2014.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.