Outcry follows demolition of student-built shed at Grasso Tech

Groton — As construction of the new Ella T. Grasso Technical High School building rolled on, contractors late last week tore down the shell of a shed that carpentry and electrical students built and worked on during the 2013-14 school year.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, was quick to criticize the decision on Facebook, and a torrent of commenters criticized the state for wastefulness and for devaluing student work. As of Monday evening, it had been shared more than 1,460 times.

"This could have been donated, re-purposed or even sold but the superintendent, the state Department of Education decides this is what should be done," Somers wrote. "This is what they think of our students work!"

Connecticut State Department of Education spokesman Peter Yazbak said that Jeffrey Wihbey, superintendent of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, didn't know about the decision to tear down the shed ahead of time, but that the Department of Administrative Services handles construction.

Grasso Tech Principal Patricia Feeney said the shed was scheduled to be taken down as part of the original construction plan for the new school. She noted that students removed valuable components — like siding, windows and doors — which will be sent to other technical schools in the state.

Jeffrey Beckham, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services, noted that students removed a garage door and electrical wiring.

Feeney said the reason the shed was demolished so soon was for safety reasons, so there would be room for emergency vehicles.

Likewise, carpentry instructor Gene Chaude noted that the fence between the current school and new construction was recently moved, creating a new need for road access to the side of the building where the shed stood.

As with the shed, Feeney said the greenhouse will be demolished as well, but essential components will be removed first.

She said the shed was not constructed in a way that it could be taken apart piecemeal, that it was "bolted upon bolted."

Chaude said he and his students could have built a wooden platform for the shed, and had a machine pick the structure off its concrete slab and place it on the wooden platform.

"You couldn't take the thing down the highway, but it could've definitely went up to Fitch, or it could've went down to the Groton park, or it could've been used on the property," Chaude said. "And I'm sure if it was offered to the public at no cost, somebody would've come here and taken it apart."

The missed opportunity for public use was what got Somers upset. She questioned why the school couldn't have donated the shed to Groton Social Services, Groton Senior Center or Noank School Public Gardens, and suggested the greenhouse be donated to a community garden.

"To me it showed a disdain for the carpentry program," she said. CTECS is closing the Grasso Tech carpentry program at the end of this year.

Chaude said discussion about the shed coming down began a while ago. He recommended alternate uses to school staff — such as using it to store athletic equipment — and offered to take it down and try to repurpose the materials.

Chaude estimates that $5,000 worth of materials — purchased with funds generated from the carpentry program's other work — went into building the shed.

About 24 students worked on building and outfitting the shed at different stages about four years ago, he said.

About a third of the 20-by-16-foot shed was used for a wood dehumidification kiln, and the rest was used to store production tools for the carpentry program. Chaude said Grasso Tech was the only technical high school in the state to have a wood dehumidification kiln.



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