Some 50 New Haven adults will go to school to learn new trades—by building the school themselves.
They’ll be gut-rehabbing an abandoned shell of a former auto repair shop at 316 Dixwell Ave. into the new home for city government’s Construction Workforce Initiative.
That’s the program, run by the Commission on Equal Opportunities’ Nichole Jefferson (pictured), aimed at helping train out-of-work adults for construction-related jobs currently booming in New Haven but going mostly to suburbanites.
City government’s Livable City Initiative foreclosed on the abandoned former home of Hank’s Custom Automotive (run by local jazz sax player Hank Bolden) and turned it over to the training program, which currently holds classes at 200 Orange St.
The classes will move to the new Dixwell Avenue building (to be renamed the Career Development School) once a crew of aspiring tradesmen renovates it from scratch.
In the meantime, the renovation job itself will serve as hands-on classes for the trainees. They’ll be renovating it as part of their training, keeping the city’s costs down in the process.
Officials held a festive groundbreaking at the property Wednesday.
They were joined by Hillhouse High School’s marching band as well as by the trainees themselves, including Frank Green (pictured above).
Green, who grew up in the Hill, is studying to be a plumber. He worked as a “casual employee” (translation: no job security or benefits) at Yale recently, doing clerical work. Then he got laid off. He said he hopes he can find more secure work as a plumber.
The school is being named after three people: Hildred Pearson, a longtime city staffer who helped shepherd this project to fruition until her recent passing; state operating engineers union leader Ben Cozzi; and Jimmy Miller, a local housing authority official who also developed the Dixwell project. (He’s pictured above with the housing authority’s Sheila Bell.)
Miller fulfilled the election-season portion of the event during remarks to about 70 people gathered under a white tent.
He noted that prior to coming to New Haven six years ago, he had worked for three New York mayors, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudolph Giuliani. Now he works for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, he noted. DeStefano is running for a record 10th two-term in next Tuesday’s election.
“This is the best, brightest mayor I’ve ever worked for,” Miller remarked.
“Job security!” a joking audience member called out.
“I don’t need job security,” Miller responded. “I’ll be 60 in a month or two. I have a pension. I have three pensions.”
DeStefano addressed the crowd, too.
“Most families want to have a chance at ... what?” he asked.
“A job!” came the response. It was the right response.
DeStefano noted all the construction going on around town, from the new Gateway Community College campus downtown to the $1.5 billion citywide school rebuilding campaign.
“We want to have a high number of people from New Haven” working on those projects, he continued. “So they can pay me, what?”
“Taxes!” came the laughter-filled response. Again, the right response.
“Say that again,” implored DeStefano. The crowd complied.
Organizers put charts up around the tent showing the number of people hired for various construction projects. Examples: 560 people worked on building the new Metropolitan Business Academy; 184 of them were “minorities,” 110 New Haven dwellers, 32 women. The rebuilt Davis School put 548 people to work, 189 of them black or Hispanic, 103 New Haveners, 30 female. City government critic Alan Felder (pictured) stood outside the gathering with signs depicting his take on those numbers.