If everything goes according to plan, the Board of Education will close Memorial Boulevard School in a few years and hand the keys over to City Hall.
What happens then, though, remains a mystery.
“Who the heck knows?” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, a former mayor.
He said that among the uses discussed for the historic building have been to turn it into a senior center or to create municipal offices within it.
But figuring out the future of the former city high school, which has been a middle school for years, would be helpful in providing guidance to the architects who are working on a plan for turning its grand auditorium into a modern community theater that can handle concerts, plays and more.
They don’t know, for example, if the existing gymnasium beneath the auditorium will be needed in the future or if that space could be used to enhance the theater.
William Smyth, the recently retired finance director for the school system, said that educators intend “to get rid of the building” as soon as the two new kindergarten to eighth grade buildings eyed for Forestville and West Bristol are constructed.
That’s likely to be about three years from now unless the projects are derailed.
The city needs to decide, then, whether the gym should stay or go, Smyth said. He said that the park department and senior center both might want to keep the gym for their own uses down the road.
On the other hand, Bill Clegg, president of the Schoenhardt architectural firm in Simsbury, said his firm could make use of the space for a banquet hall or a black box theater.
Mark Hopper, a partner in the architecture firm, said that part of the decision-making is to set limits on what the theater can use.
Hopper said that figuring out the programs the theater would house and the parts of the building it can overhaul would provide guidance to the architects.
The city hasn’t had any serious discussion – in public at least – about the ultimate fate of the school.
But there have been hints.
For example, former Mayor William Stortz, in his 2007 state-of-the-city speech, asked, “Could that house
the Board of Education or the whole city hall or possibly an education/academic facility such as
criminal justice or culinary institute or an expansion of the Community college system?”
“Just think, if the Board of Education moved there then what would/could be done with their
building? Apartments, condos, possible conversion for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club with an
adjacent open lot, or even again, some other educational facility,” Stortz said.
The school board aims to close Memorial Boulevard and three old elementary schools and move the students into two new K-8 buildings.
The $120 million plan has received initial blessings from City Hall, but it’s unclear whether officials will continue to back the idea when they’re presented with property to purchase and bills to pay.
The state would pick up about 70 percent of the school construction cost. State officials have also told the city that it can renovate the theater without updating the entire Memorial Boulevard building to meet current accessibility, building and fire codes.
Memorial Boulevard opened in 1922 and served as the city’s only high school until 1959. It was converted to a junior high school in 1967. Since 1993, it has housed sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
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