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Common Ground Broken
by Kendra Baker | Oct 15, 2013 5:23 pm
Posted to: Environment, Schools, West Rock
Common Ground High School took a $10 million step forward Tuesday—while vowing to maintain its sense of family.
Around 70 people—over half of them Common Ground High School students—gathered near the school’s organic garden for a groundbreaking on a new $10.2 million, 13,000-square-foot solar-heated and geothermal-cooled building complete with new science labs, performance space, and art classrooms.
Common Ground is home to the nation’s oldest environmental charter high school, an environmental center, and an urban farm that contributes over 35,000 servings of healthful, fresh food to the New Haven community.
The state government, the city and private donors have contributed $9.6 million to the renovation project; Common Ground is still short $600,000. The organization launched a community campaign to raise the remaining money for its new school building and other related improvements on its 20-acre site at the base of West Rock.
The expansion would allow the student body to grow from 180 to 225 students. Speakers at Tuesday’s event expressed their determination to retain the school’s intimate feeling as it grows.
“We’re not just a school here—we’re a family. The atmosphere wasn’t developed easily. I think such a small population has [had] the biggest role in making this school so family-based,” said Mettao Feliz, a Common Ground High School junior. “It’s not going to be easy for the students or the teachers to go through this change, but it’s good for everybody and it’s healthy for everybody involved in this, so it’s important for this to happen.”
The project will help expand community programs to reach 12,000 children and adults per year and help double the production of Common Ground’s urban farm.
“Change means we’re accepting everything we’re trying to represent. We’re trying to represent sustainability and environmental thinking, and this new building is really going to demonstrate that,” said Feliz (pictured). “It’s very important for everybody involved to understand that this is something good.”
Not only will the new facility contain state-of-the-art science, art, performance and athletic space. It will also include geothermal heating and cooling and solar panels that will generate over 70 percent of Common Ground’s electricity.
Feliz said despite the expansion and renovations, he does not expect the sense of family at Common Ground to disappear.
“We have things that can still make us feel like a family—still make me feel like I have brothers and sisters at this school and not just peers I go to school with,” said Feliz, referring to the change as delicate but important.
Four years ago, Common Ground embarked on an ambitious planning envisioning project that led to the development of a 10-year master plan. Today the organization is “on the verge of actually realizing many of the goals that were established,” said Melissa Spear, Common Ground’s executive director.
Spear (pictured) said for the past year, Common Ground has been engaged in “a very intense fundraising process for the funds we need to make this vision a reality”—a reality that includes not only increasing the student body, but also bringing an additional 2,000 people per year to the site for educational programming and “deepening our partnership with the New Haven Public School System to provide opportunities and support hands-on learning in the natural world as a means of improving educational outcomes and environmental awareness.”
Common Ground staff passed out buttons to individuals at the gathering to show the appreciation for their contributions and support.
“The button symbolizes our thanks to you for all you’ve done to get us to this point with your time, talent, your gifts, your financial gifts, your bounty of skills, your cooking, your farming, your love, your support, your good humor,” said Common Ground Board Chair William Frank Mitchell (pictured). “It’s groundbreaking, and we will be forever grateful to you.”
“We want to see beauty and hear truth and raise money and grow food and change lives and create a new world—and we’re almost there,” Mitchell said. “It’s just the beginning. We’re going to raise more money and we are going to keep transforming lives and bringing new people on board and creating great change.”
Terry Jones, a fifth-generation farmer on Jones Family Farms in Shelton, called the work he has seen at Common Ground inspiring.
“I see plants growing, but I also see children growing,” said Jones, a member of the state Board of Education. “As a farmer, I feel like we, collectively, in farming are an endangered species, but I find hope in places like this that farmers will be coming off the endangered list, so thank you.”
Jones (pictured) also thanked the city for “its robust interest in education and the agriculture of growing things.”
“It’s going to be a great future for Common Ground and the city of New Haven,” said Jones.
Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor expressed gratitude for being able to be part of Common Ground’s transformation and thanked the people and organizations that have contributed.
“Today we’re going beyond the beginning to a new phase of development for Common Ground,” said Pryor. “Your positive investment here and the energy that we’re generating here is radiating out and proving that young people can learn in abundance as a result of the seeds that we plant and the harvest that we bring forth.”
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Great news! New Haven needs a Common Ground in every corner of the city.
Common Ground always has been and always will be a great school. This school deserves all the resources it needs because it gets results. Best of luck.