By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The Board of Education hopes to pursue an opportunity that would turn the former Memorial Boulevard School into a performing arts magnet school.
During a meeting last Wednesday, the Board of Education discussed the possibility of renovating MBS into an intra-district performing arts magnet school for students in grades six through 12. The board unanimously approved to seek the City Council’s approval to submit an application to the state for this project, which would involve renovating the MBS building as a school and a theater.
Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson said the board does not want to “forgo the efforts” that have already been made for the MBS project, but saw the application as a “good opportunity.”
“We hope we can be successful. If not, certainly the city has already made a commitment to renovate the theater portion of that school.”
In January, Rep. Chris Ziogas (D-Bristol), along with House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin/Southington), and school and city officials took a tour of the former MBS, which has been vacant since 2011. The goal of the tour was to discuss potential funding to renovate the 1921 building into a performing arts magnet school.
Wilson said this magnet school could reduce costs for the state. Currently, 100 of Bristol’s students attend performing arts magnet schools, and the state covers about $5,000 a student for transportation costs, noted Wilson.
Wilson said bringing a performing arts magnet school to Bristol has many benefits to students.
“It’s clear to us that the parents and families in Bristol are looking for a themed magnet school in the performing arts,” said Wilson. “We’ve always had a strong arts program in our schools.”
Board Commissioner Jeff Caggiano said the use of MBS as a school is “the best use of that building.”
If approved by the state, the city would pay for a portion of the project. Once completed, the district would be responsible for the magnet school’s operational costs.
Looking ahead, Board Commissioner David Scott asked about maintaining those operational costs.
“We haven’t done exactly what we needed to take care of our own district, and yet we’re trying to take on something else,” said Scott. “I want more information on how in terms of planning…how we’re going to maintain that.”
Wilson said the feasibility study that architect firm DRA could provide more insight about using MBS as a magnet school.
Board of Education Vice Chairperson Karen Vibert said tuition from students outside Bristol also could help the district maintain costs of the magnet school.
“We would also be able to bring in students from other districts and charge them tuition,” said Vibert, adding that the magnet school could be self-sustaining.
Board Commissioner Tom O’Brien said he does not view the potential magnet school as “an additional school” for the district.
“We have to be realistic—this is not going to be an additional school with all the associated costs that go with that—it’s a replacement or another opportunity for students who choose to follow music [and] art,” said O’Brien. “It will have a big impact, as we take students out of existing schools, and also provide a home for students going who are going out of the city.”
Once submitted to the state, the application will appear before the Bond Commission, which is not scheduled to meet again until the state budget passes.
Ziogas told school officials it could take between six and 18 months before the district hears back from the state about the project’s feasibility.
“He thought it would be somewhere between six months and 18 months…in terms of when we would know if we would be successful or not,” said Wilson.
After city officials recently approved $13.3 million in funding, the Memorial Boulevard Building Committee moved forward with design documents for phase one of the project, which includes a 750-seat theater.
Wilson said the committee is aware of the application, and the ongoing design work can continue even though the board has decided to pursue an opportunity to turn MBS into a magnet school.
“We think we can work together for the success of it,” said Wilson. “This will really be a homerun if we can convince the state to fund this.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.