More than eight years after it was first announced, a groundbreaking ceremony took place August 22 that begins a $129.9 million rebuilding of West Haven High School When completed, we are told the entire structure will be “state-of-the-art” and will offer students the most up-to-date educational experience that can be given. We hope so.
Since it was first broached by Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro in 2009, the project has seen fits and starts, several renditions costing taxpayers millions, a cloak-and-dagger secretive process that seemed to exclude public input on purpose, and a needless two-year battle over the future of the school’s successful shops programs that saw professional educators on one side, and students and the public on the other.
While school and city officials were all smiles at the groundbreaking ceremony – a photo-op more than anything else – there is no denying much of the suspicion that has plagued this project almost from the outset is still hovering. There is no denying, also, that if the project planning had been a bit more open, a bit more courteous to the people who are funding the project – the people of this city – the suspicion would never have arisen.
We remember the public session school officials finally conducted in order to hear from taxpayers. We also remember the behind-the-scenes disgust some of those same officials had for the people for whom they work. It was elitist at best, callous and disdainful at worst.
At the time, we asked for an open and informative back-and-forth between the school system and the public. We used Guilford as a prime example of what could be accomplished when the public is made part of the process. Instead, there was no public input until anger became so intense and distrust so palpable school officials’ hands were forced.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Mayor Edward M. O’Brien’s 2012 primary win over incumbent Mayor John M. Picard was by and large because of the school construction issue and the distrust that had festered over it.
But here we are. Bonds have been issued, work has begun, and sometime hence we will have a new building for our students.
As the project continues and as the construction gets underway, we hope the school system will throw off its heretofore reticence to let the taxpayers in and give regular updates and information as to the progress being made. While more than 75 percent of the total cost is subject to reimbursement by the state, it is still our money, no matter which “bucket” from which it is drawn.
The groundbreaking on August 22 should have been a day of rejoicing and hope for the future. In our mind it was marred by more than eight years of missteps on the part of the professional and political classes.
We can only hope the years leading up to the completion of the project will heal some of the divisions and work toward more cooperation.
We hope, but we don’t expect.