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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    New London’s oldest school building to be returned to the city

    Jerome Pittman receives a kiss from his mother, Liz Garcia, in this file photo from Thursday, June 22, 2023, on the last day of school at Harbor Elementary School in New London. The Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, voted to return the school to the city. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Charlotte Spinnato, right, cries as she hugs her friend in this file photo from Thursday, June 22, 2023, after getting out of school on the last day at Harbor Elementary School in New London. The Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 voted to return the school to the city. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― Just more than eight months after New London’s oldest school was shuttered, the Board of Education on Monday voted to release the former Harbor Elementary School back to the city.

    The unanimous decision was a bittersweet moment for board President Elaine Maynard-Adams.

    “My daughter was there from kindergarten through fifth grade when I was PTO president,” she said on Tuesday. “I have a huge sentimental attachment to that school, the last one in our district that is not a magnet school.”

    The fate of the 115-year-old brick school at 432 Montauk Ave., which helped educate generations of residents, was largely sealed last year after cracks were discovered on the second and third floors, prompting a two-day closure of the building for inspections.

    The board learned less than a month later that upgrading the school just to meet federal American with Disabilities Act standards would cost approximately $1.5 million, while a full renovation of the school would cost upward of $80 million.

    But it was ultimately the community’s feedback that led to the school’s closure on June 22, Maynard-Adams said.

    “I initially wanted to keep Harbor open this year and just stop taking in new students,” she said. “But parents told us to just rip the Band-Aid off, much to my surprise.”

    Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie and her team during the summer worked to find space for 270 Harbor students and 45 staff members at new schools.

    Since the closure, workers have spent months removing supplies and equipment, a task expected to be complete by next week.

    “Then, the city takes over the responsibility for paying building utilities and security,” Maynard-Adams said. “That will represent a cost savings for us, since we won’t be paying to heat and light the school. As part of the closure, we also eliminated an assistant principal position and only have three, rather than four, schools on our books.”

    Next steps

    Director of Economic Development and Planning Felix Reyes said Tuesday the city will conduct a series of assessments of the school and property.

    “That means building condition, environmental and zoning assessments,” he said. “That building’s always been a school, but we need to figure out what the conditions are there before we decide best uses of it for the future.”

    Mayor Michael Passero said the city has already fielded inquires about the school from interested developers.

    “The commercial real estate market in this region is hot and that property is an attractive one,” he said. “We’ll be entertaining proposals.”

    Despite the absence of students and staff, the school hasn’t been left unused.

    “We’re hosting pickleball programming in the school gym five nights a week and it’s been a blessing to have that location,” Recreation Director Joshua Posey said. “And the police department does some training there, too. I’d love to do more, but we’re going to wait and see what the city ends up doing with the building.”

    Democratic Registrar of Voters Rich Martin said the intent is to keep the building in use as a voting site at least until after November.

    “With a presidential election coming up, removing a polling place could get messy, so we’ll do our best to maintain it,” he said. “But after November, we’ll move on.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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