New London High School faces deadline to lay out building improvement plan

New London - The agency that accredits New England secondary schools has given New London High School a September deadline to say what it will do to repair or replace the building, which doesn't meet handicapped-access standards.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which has had the school on warning status for five years, said the city must "construct a new building, resolve all existing facility issues ... or decentralize the city's schools into an all magnet school district to be sited in appropriate facilities."

The high school has been in danger of losing its accreditation and has been on warning since NEASC cited the school for its need to make facility improvements and meet ADA code as part of its 10-year evaluation in 2008.

In a letter to Principal William "Tommy" Thompson last week, Janet D. Allison, director of NEASC's Committee on Public Secondary Schools, wrote that the committee is concerned "that the school has been on warning for more than five years related to long-standing, unresolved facilities concerns."

Those concerns include the school's failure - since 1988 - to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school's noncompliance with ADA and other unresolved facility issues "continue to impact the school's educational programs and services," Allison wrote.

Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said the future status of the high school building "stands in limbo."

Along with determining the fate of the high school, Fischer said the city will need to address Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. The operating systems of both schools, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, "have come to the end of their useful working lives," and the high school is beyond the point of using preventative maintenance measures, he said.

The city could renovate both schools "as new" on their current sites, or it could combine the two schools into one large campus where the high school is now. The needs of each of the school system's four magnet pathways - a result of the city's transition into the state's first all-magnet school district - could factor into the decision.

"What we first had to get decided were the four magnet pathways. The next issue was what buildings are available to accommodate the current student body and the anticipated growth," he said. "We've been discussing this with the Board of Education, City Council and the School Building and Maintenance Committee for a long time."

The State Bond Commission last year approved a $3 million allocation to cover the costs of the design phase of renovating the high school as new. State-appointed Special Master Steven J. Adamowski has previously said that the high school would likely not receive full NEASC accreditation until it was renovated "as new."

By Sept. 1 the city must provide a special progress report, including a timeline of action and intended sources of funding.

"We are in the process of working with the architects from CREC [Capitol Region Education Council] to come up with proposals to bring to the Board of Education, the City Council and the School Building and Maintenance Committee," Fischer said. Those plans would address the needs of the high school and middle school.

"While there is a host of different facility issues, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the school and the city to address facility shortcomings," Thompson said. "NEASC has recognized our progress and is pleased with our increases in student achievement and our comprehensive system of support not only to help students academically but also socially."

In her letter to Thompson, Allison noted that the committee was pleased with the school's progress in addressing some of the concerns about the school facility including the installation of a wheelchair ramp and the purchase of some ADA-compliant furniture.

Allison did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

The committee also noted the "clear articulation of the school's developmental guidance curriculum," the implementation of an advisory program and an advisory protocol that "established] strong conditions for facilitating student success."

"Our philosophy is to work with what we have and continue to make improvements," Thompson said. "We're confident that things are going to happen for our future facilities but we know things are happening now to address some of our facility shortcomings."

c.young@theday.com

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