Obama Joins MLK On Dixwell

Allan Appel PhotoThe pantheon of civil rights leaders on a Dixwell Avenue school will now include President Obama—in the form of large back-lit digitally printed images on glass wrapping around the gym.

That detail and more emerged Wednesday night as designers ofa new $35 million, 75,000-square-foot charter high school for 550 students laid out their vision and pictures of it at a site plan review presentation to the City Plan Commission.

The site plan review passed unanimously.

The school will be built on the grave of the former MLK Intermediate School. It will become the new home of Achievement First/Amistad High School.

After the sale last year of the former and long vacant MLK Intermediate School to Achievement First for $1.5 million and a passionately negotiated community benefits agreement, the stage is set for construction to begin.

Shelton-based Fletcher Thompson architect Angela Cahill said that demolition could start this summer with a completion expected in 2015.

The chief features of the building to go up on the six-acre site include a three-story classroom building on one side of a large sunlit communal public area off the main Dixwell Avenue entrance. Off that lobby space will run the major public areas, the cafeteria, gymnasium, and media lab, said architect Michael Berger.

Fletcher ThompsonOn the interior of the site bordered by Dixwell, Ford Street, and Sherman Parkway (with forested property to the north) will be a parking area with slots for 100 cars. The cars will belong only to staff and visitors. The agreement between Achievement First and the community includes a provision that none of the high schoolers will drive to school.

Buses will deliver, pick up and stack in the interior parking area and enter or exit either by driveways on Ford or Sherman, so no jamming up is expected on the streets surrounding the school.

The full-length athletic field, which is to be built about four feet above the level of Sherman Parkway, will have extensive perforated drainage pipes along the perimeters. That and other features such as a rain garden for the roof run-off met the approval of environmentally-minded commissioners, including Westville Alderman Adam Marchand, who inquired about it.

As to the athletic field, planners anticipate using grass. “We’d love to have artificial. We just don’t know if we can afford it,” said the landscape architect Earl Goven.

Berger explained that the entry space or lobby, which he termed a “gallery,” will function as a sunlit gathering space, a beacon for students, around which cluster the media lab, gym, and cafeteria. These can function for community gatherings after school hours, with the three-story classroom building, on the north side of the gallery, closed off for security purposes.

Fletcher ThompsonWrapped around the gymnasium and lit at night so the community can see will be large digitally printed-on-glass versions of the civil rights leaders whose visages currently inhabit the MLK walls. President Obama will be added, said Berger. The mural of the civil-rights heroes has been a beloved landmark in the neighborhood. Neighbors wanted to see it preserved.

The architectural drawing shown at Wednesday night’s meeting has Obama placed right next to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the front of the line.

Whether other faces will be added or taken away is still being discussed between school officials and the local alderwomen, said Achievement First Senior Director of Facilities Lisa Desfosses.

Commissioner Maricel Ramos-Valcarel wanted to know the materials being used. The answer: In addition to large amounts of glass, stone at the base, along with brick and ceramic glazed tile.

The next step for the builders is to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals in April with a laid-out plan for new signage. As soon as construction documents are prepared, the project will go out to bid, as early as this summer, said Cahill.

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posted by: Curious on March 21, 2013  9:49am


Very curious to see how the clergy respond to this.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on March 21, 2013  11:08am

If “The Clergy” can be bought off or silenced by new buildings and hero-worshipping images while complicit in the hijacking of OUR children’s education, we don’t deserve the title or the position. 

Using a picture of Dr. King in this continued undermining of African-American students and their gullible parents is quite ironic, as he warned against this very thing when he voiced his skepticism to integration of public secondary schools.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee,

posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on March 21, 2013  12:22pm

I’m slightly confused about why there are images of people being put up around the school at all?  This city’s population is constanly crying that racial equality could be better.  Doesn’t this design reinforce that this school is for a certain part of our city’s popluation?  I think we should build a new school on the corner of W. Rock and Edgewood and put images of famous, white leaders.  Come on.  Isn’t a statue in the courtyard, or naming the school after a historical, African American leader enough of a way to pay homage to our country’s great leaders of the past?

posted by: Brutus2011 on March 21, 2013  12:24pm

My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge.

posted by: TheForMatt on March 21, 2013  12:31pm

What is the plan for the Police Shooting range!!! I strongly suggest moving it or enclosing it to become a sound proof location; that will not disrupt the learning ability of our youth. I don’t understand how this unacceptable act was allowed to go on for all these years. I’m currently a 38 years old male a former student of Jackie Robinson middle school. I lived in the Newhall area of Winchester Ave. long story short; if you know the area you would know in order for me to get home I had to pass through this police shooting range. Everyday I walked from Jackie Robinson middle school pass the “shooting range” through the back yard of Martin Luther King School in order to make it home. until one day my friend said to me hey lets hide in the old abandon school bus by the shooting range to watch the police shoot….......!!!!!! needless to say not only was this dangerous to me and my friends as children but it also created a fascination to get my hands on a gun as quick as I could….. this is a serious problem for our black community and something needs to be done. also the fact that police are shooting during the day sends a ringing sound of fear through the neighborhood along with uncontrolled youth shooting at night!!!!!!! with the new Martin Luther King School being built I sure hope our youth can focus and get pass the ringing gun shoots of the police department!

posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2013  1:32pm

“Doesn’t this design reinforce that this school is for a certain part of our city’s popluation?”

What happens in 20 years when Newhallville becomes a primarily Ecuadorian, Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, and Chinese neighborhood?

posted by: Stylo on March 21, 2013  2:51pm

Nothing against Obama, but what did he do for civil rights? Not sure he belongs in the same company.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on March 21, 2013  3:50pm

All the people killed by drones will be happy to know that we are adding Obama to the pantheon of civil rights leaders.

posted by: speakingthetruth on March 21, 2013  6:51pm

Please!  Lets not put Obama amongst such esteemed leaders.  He is driving America into the ground.  Why are all the paintings on the new school of famous black people only?  New Haven is a melting pot…lets see a diverse representation, much like the townas a whole.  I can on, y imagine the outcry by activists if NHPS put up murals outside one of their schools of famous white people. It works both ways.  Fair and equitable my friends.

posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2013  7:19pm

Obama has expanded health insurance to millions.  That’s the most important civil right. Unfortunately it is one that Governor Malloy and Ben Barnes have killed progress on because they need to protect their insurance lobby friends and Fairfield County elites.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 22, 2013  2:19pm

It’d be nice to see the school adopt a smaller site footprint with less off-street parking, a smaller field and a more urban building. A smaller site would make room for a new street between Dixwell and Sherman and new houses to be developed on the new street, abutting the existing properties on West Hazel Street. There are existing ball fields on Sherman just a block from the school site that could accommodate recess.

Existing Site:

Current Proposal:

Alternate Proposal:

posted by: anonymous on March 22, 2013  3:53pm

Jonathan’s proposal is far superior.