August 22, 2017 – The resurrected $130 million project to rebuild and renovate West Haven High School got its official start Tuesday as officials from the city, its contractors, state representatives and some students used golden shovels to toss some earth — although demolition work to prepare for the project has been going on all summer.

Antinozzi Associates breaks ground on new West Haven High School project.

West Haven Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro speaks at the ground-breaking ceremony for the new West Haven High School near the entrance to the old school.

Ground-breaking for the long-delayed “renovate as new” project to build a state-of-the-art West Haven High took place in front of the school’s main entrance on Circle Street.

“It’s a very, very proud moment in my administration,” said Mayor Ed O’Brien at the start of the ceremony. “What a great time to be … in West Haven.”

After much work to get the designs right, “we have a project that’s within budget” and ready to begin, he said.

O’Brien said later that “it’s important to have a school that’s state-of-the-art — and it’s long overdue.”

Project Manager Richard Snedeker of the Capitol Region Education Council said that by the time the project is completed, “every space” within the high school “will be renovated or brand new.” The completed school is likely to draw students who might otherwise leave to attend magnet schools back into the school system, he said.

“This is a project which I’m so excited about,” said Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro. “It’s been nine years in the making” and “something that we’ve thought about. … We knew that we were losing students to other school districts, to the magnet programs, and, frankly, we were on the verge of not being able to compete.

Antinozzi Associates to build new $130 million West Haven High School.

West Haven High School students, right to left, Julia Walker, Sumedha Chowdhury and David O’Brien join city, state and other officials for a ground-breaking ceremony.

“The state-of-the-art facility that we’re going to be building here is going to be good for not only our students and our staff, but for the entire community of West Haven,” Cavallaro said. “I think it’s going to give us a whole new image.”

He thanked O’Brien for his commitment, and said, “I’m just so, so excited that we’ve been able to put this project together.”

Cavallaro said school officials plan to keep reassuring parents and students “that they’re going to keep getting the first-rate education that they’re entitled to” while the project is going on.

The state’s reimbursement rate for the project is 75.36 percent, with the city paying just less than 25 percent. State officials have worked closely with the city and its team to get the details right.

The City Council recently approved a $133.25 million bonding ordinance to finance West Haven’s portion of the cost.

The new school was designed by Antinozzi Associates of Bridgeport to accommodate 1,450 students. The plans include renovating about 98,000 square feet of the existing building, demolishing the remainder, and adding more than 168,000 square feet of new construction.

The total finished project will be 265,959 square feet, with a cutting-edge media center, advanced STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — classrooms and laboratories and upgraded public areas for both the school’s use and the community.

It also will offer enhanced access, better security and lower maintenance and operating costs, officials have said.

The project’s construction phase will consist of three major “subphases” to allow the school to offer a full academic curriculum throughout the project.

Gilbane Building Co. of Glastonbury is the project’s construction manager, with Amar Shamas serving as the project executive. The Capital Region Education Council of Hartford is overseeing the construction financing, with Elizabeth Craun serving as the construction program manager.

Other speakers at the ground-breaking included state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, and state Rep. Michael DiMassa, D-West Haven.

Also attending were Board of Education Chairman Jim Morrissey and several board members, School Building Committee Chairman William Sapienza and several committee members, City Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Tracy Morrissey, D-8, Democratic mayoral challenger Nancy Rossi and representatives of the project’s architect and contractor, among others.

“This needs to happen,” said Slossberg, Senate chairwoman of the legislative Education Committee, who fought a number of times to break logjams and smooth the way for the project to move forward.

“This has been a priority for me, this project,” she said. “I’m so proud to be standing here today” to break ground. She also pointed out, on a hot and humid day, that the new high school will be air-conditioned.

Borer pointed out that when young, growing families look to move to a new community, “the first thing they look at is the education system” and the new high school will give West Haven something it can be proud of.

DiMassa said, “It takes a lot to get a project like this done. … This is our future. We want to give [students] a first-rate education system.”

Speaking after the ceremony, Morrissey said it was “a very exciting day for our schools,” which he said “deserve nothing but the best.” He called the high school project “a step in the right direction.”

Rossi, who was interested and involved in the project from the time the Board of Education first began pushing for it and was the council’s Finance Committee chairwoman for much of the time during which the project was planned, said, “I’m very pleased that the high school is finally getting built.

“I am not happy that this administration held it up for such a long period of time, which resulted in losing 14 classrooms,” Rossi said. “Additionally, I am hopeful that the bonds will be able to be sold in September as they are hoped. … That is how they’re paying for the project.”

This article was published in the New Haven Register