BRISTOL – City councilors backed a new school site in Forestville Tuesday but gunned down a proposal to build another school on the Scalia property off Barlow Street.
With the council’s blessing, educators intend to pursue the purchase of the former Crowley dealership next door to Greene-Hills School unless environmental or other problems arise.
In the West End, however, education officials are returning to square one to see if perhaps another site can win the council’s backing.
The Board of Education is seeking two sites in order to build two new 900-student schools that would house kindergarten through eighth grade. It plans to shut down four older schools: Greene-Hills, O’Connell and Bingham elementary schools and Memorial Boulevard Middle School.
Only one councilor, Frank Nicastro, opposed the Forestville site. He said there should have been more time for public input. He also expressed unhappiness that Mayor William Stortz failed to share two environmental studies that have been done on the Crowley property.
But the proposal to put a school at the Scalia site drew harsh criticism from residents and hard questions from councilors.
A handful of angry residents expressed fury that city officials allowed educators to make a pitch for their plan before the public got the opportunity to speak at Tuesday’s council session.
“What happened to public input?” yelled Joe Geladino, a Republican running for a council seat in the 2nd District. “Dictatorship?”
“Why don’t you give us a chance to talk?” hollered Mark Blaschke, an independent council contender in the same district.
Nicastro pleaded with residents to “keep your cool” and wait for the chance to speak.
After backing the Forestville site, Stortz asked if anyone had a motion for the other site.
A long silence followed.
Finally, city Councilor Mike Rimcoski proposed the council reject the Scalia site.
Stortz said he wasn’t sure a negative motion was appropriate.
“Well, nobody was making a positive one,” Rimcoski said.
Councilors said they were not sure that the Scalia site was the best possible place, raising the possibility of looking instead at the former grocery store site between Divinity and Park streets, which would require taking 35 privately owned properties, including many homes.
Mary Rydingsward, a Working Families Party candidate for the Board of Education, said she opposed the Scalia site. “Building on a sandpit does sound like a sinking proposition,” she said.
She said she’s unsure about whether to support the switch to K-8 but the arguments for it rest on helping urban children succeed. She said that putting a new school on the edge of town doesn’t fit the model.
“It’s the pits,” said Tom Doyle, another resident.
Only Stortz favored the Scalia site.
The decision goes back to a school committee next.
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