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New London school officials outline problems with buildings, offer tour as referendum approaches

New London - The first thing a visitor notices upon walking into Room 135 at New London High School is the noise.

The heater at the back of the science classroom produces a constant hissing, gurgling and whirring but blows only cold air, despite what the thermostat calls for. Any warmth that does manage to escape the heating unit, though, may quickly disappear through a nearby window, which relies on duct tape to stay shut.

Down in the bowels of the building, 2,500 gallons of oil are fed into three "outdated and inefficient" boilers each day to heat the high school, according to Principal William "Tommy" Thompson III. On a good day, he said, two of the three boilers actually work.

"When you walk through the hallways and step into a classroom, you don't see these problems," Thompson said. "These are problems with the infrastructure of the building, behind the walls."

On Tuesday night, Thompson led a tour of the building to give voters an up-close look at the condition of the building ahead of the Nov. 4 referendum on the City Council's approval of up to $168 million in bonding as part of a school construction plan.

The state legislature has approved a reimbursement rate of 80 percent for the high school and middle school projects, which would leave the city to pay the balance of roughly $34 million.

The construction plan would involve renovating as new New London High School and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, and constructing a building to house a science, technology, engineering and math middle school at the high school campus.

It would also complete the facilities portion of the city's transition to an all-magnet school district, school officials have said.

About 30 people attended an informational presentation Tuesday night made by Thompson, Interim Superintendent Richard Foye and Chief Academic Officer Katherine Ericson. But only two elected officials and one voter joined Thompson for a tour of the building afterward.

Thompson's tour also included stops at the school's wrestling team's practice space - a green and gold mat laid down at the bottom of the school's empty swimming pool. The principal also explained how, in order to get to the cafeteria for lunch, students who use wheelchairs have to travel through a janitor's storage area to get to a service elevator.

Since 1988, the school has not been compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and for more than five years, New London High School has been on probation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the agency that accredits New England secondary schools.

The school is at risk of losing its accreditation if the city does not "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," a NEASC official wrote in a letter earlier this year.

"If we do not meet the standard of our accrediting body, there is a perception that ... there is a poor educational quality at this school," Thompson said. "Colleges begin to look differently at the school, and it is possible that there are fewer opportunities for our graduates."

Twitter: @ColinAYoung


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