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Groundbreaking held for $49.5 million middle school in New London

New London — School and city officials on Friday held a ceremonial groundbreaking to mark the start of reconstruction of the city’s middle school, the second part of a nearly $160 million two-campus project now underway.

With some previous obstacles and delays out of the way, the first phase of the $49.5 million project at Bennie Dover Jackson Multi-Magnet Middle School is slated to begin on June 28. The project, which involves demolition, an addition and revamping of classroom and outdoor space, is slated to be completed in the fall of 2024.

The funding for the middle and high school projects was first approved in 2014 at referendum as a major component of the district’s transition into an all-magnet school district. The schools welcome students from towns across Connecticut, allowing the district to benefit from state magnet school funding.

At the time of the referendum, voters approved a total cost of $165 million for the two schools with $55 million allocated for the middle school. The state is reimbursing the city 80% of the costs for most components of the two projects.

Bennie Dover will eventually house middle school students in two of the district’s three magnet programs: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and an International Baccalaureate program. The school is currently in the IB candidacy phase.

The third magnet pathway is Visual and Performing Arts. New London High School, in the middle of a $108 million construction project, will house STEM and IB programs for high school students and, because of the larger size, will accommodate both middle and high school students in the arts magnet program. The high school project is slated to be completed in 2023.

School officials say while the middle school will have distinct spaces for each of its two magnet school programs, it will continue to have arts programming as required by middle school curriculum. The renovations, for instance, will include new art spaces, band and digital arts areas.

The project, overseen by Colliers International, will include new heating, cooling and ventilation, a new addition to house science space and classrooms. There will also be an enlarged interior courtyard for outdoor programming. The current plans do not include reconstruction of the adjacent Central Office building, despite an initial push to use contingency funding for that project.

City Councilor John Satti, chairman of the School Maintenance and Building Committee, presided over Friday’s event outside Bennie Dover and handed out golden shovels to officials for photos. Satti gave a brief history of the middle school, which is the site of the former Chapman Technical High School.

An existing portion of Chapman Tech built in 1935 will be demolished as part of the project. Much of the middle school building was constructed in the 1950s, with a major renovation taking place in 1993. Bennie Dover Principal Chris Vamvakides lived in a home at the corner of Waller Street and Waller Court and watched the 1993 renovations.

“Now as principal of the middle school, I am incredibly humbled and proud to lead Bennie Dover through this exciting new chapter of its history,” Vamvakides said Friday. “We have a bright future ahead of us and I can’t wait until our students, staff and community get to enjoy this campus in just a few short years.”

“This is a long time coming and amazing opportunity and gift for the children and community,” Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie said. “This is one element of the chapter of change and new beginnings and levels of excellence which all of our students deserve. We’re transforming inside and out and we’re doing it together.”

g.smith@theday.com

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