State House approves funding for Memorial Boulevard School project

Published on Thursday, 10 May 2018 20:44
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

@brianjohnsonBP

BRISTOL - State Rep. Chris Ziogas, D-Bristol, announced the House’s approval late Wednesday of a school construction bill containing funding for much of the the $55 million renovation of Memorial Boulevard School.

The funding represents 68.7 percent of the total cost of the project, which was approved by the City Council unanimously in November with the intention to use the building as an arts and theater magnet school. The remaining city portion of the costs will be bonded and a resolution has already been put into place to do so.

Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said the project moving forward is a “win-win for Bristol on many fronts.”

“There has been widespread community support for a practical re-use of this historic building since the day it closed,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “A performing arts magnet school will be a great asset in marketing Bristol as an attractive place to live and work. The historic theater, which is a gem, will also be a catalyst for more positive activity in the downtown area.”

Zoppo-Sassu said it was “nerve- wracking” waiting Wednesday night to hear if the funding would be approved. But the vote was taken up at 11:20 p.m., just before the midnight deadline. Ziogas then called the mayor to assure her that the funding had been secured.

“Having a theater is going to give people a destination,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “Between the Bristol Hospital building and Pint and Plate we are starting to create a synergy of destinations downtown. The theater is right at the heart of downtown and it has always been a priority. Even if we had been unable to secure funding for the entire building we had set aside $13 million for the theater. The theater was built in 1923 and is just gorgeous.”

Zoppo-Sassu said she is thankful to those “hundreds to people” who supported the city retaining the building since it closed in 2012. The 90,000-square-foot building has gone unused for several years after prior plans for its use failed to come to fruition. Once renovated, the arts and theater magnet school would be home to Bristol’s largest performance theater.

“Renovations are going to bring the building up to ADA and life safety codes,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “As part of that, the entrance to the theater is going to be modified and some seating will be removed to give people more access to the stage. There were originally 900 seats and it will be reduced to 750. The entire mechanical, heating, cooling and electrical system will also be replaced.”

Zoppo-Sassu said the estimated completion date of the renovations has yet to be announced.

Ziogas said the renovation of Memorial Boulevard School has been one of his top priorities.

“The approval of this funding is a big step forward,” said Ziogas. “Having an arts and theater magnet school in Bristol will provide an additional educational opportunity for our students while putting an important historic building to good use.

“The state will reimburse over two-thirds of the construction costs, making this a smart fiscal move for Bristol. I’d like to thank Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson for all their work on the local level to advance this initiative.”

Ziogas said it was his idea to use Memorial Boulevard School for its current planned purpose.

“The community had, for some length of time, wanted to use the school theater,” said Ziogas. “It was a priority for local community groups and there were lots of conversations about what to do with the rest of the building.

“Having some spent some time at Memorial Boulevard School during my high school years, I recognized the potential it had. Bristol was going through some changes as far as its facility needs so I reached out to the Board of Education. Bristol has always been strong with what it offers for our local sports teams, so I thought that we could do something apart from that.”

Ziogas noted that due to the “vetting process” taking a while, the project application had come in a little bit after the deadline. However, he said that he “worked hard” to get it back on the priority list for funding this year.

In January of 2017, Ziogas and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz toured Memorial Boulevard School along with members of the City Council and Board of Education. The purpose of the tour was to discuss potential funding to renovate Memorial for use as an arts and theater magnet school. That August, the Bristol Board of Education voted to file an application with the state for the creation of an arts magnet school at Memorial Boulevard School.

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Thursday, 10 May 2018 20:44. Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2018 20:47.