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Despite flood zone, building at new site of a 100-year-old Bridgeport high school is imminent

The new site for Bassick High School on the campus of the University of Bridgeport next to Seaside Park in the south end of Bridgeport
Ebong Udoma
The new site for Bassick High School on the campus of the University of Bridgeport next to Seaside Park in the south end of Bridgeport

Bridgeport's plans to break ground for the construction of a new high school in the city’s south end this spring are stalled. Officials say the hold is due to a delay in state funding. But even before that, the move of the 100-year-old Bassick High School faced stiff opposition from neighborhood groups and environmentalists.

Those opposed to Bassick High School’s move to the south end of the city say it would be an environmental disaster.

Are we going to continue making the same mistakes of sacrificing the environment for short term benefits? And in 30 years we have to look for a new Bassick High School,” said Kat Morris, an environmental scholar who graduated from Bassick High School in 2016.

The school is being moved to an area that is a FEMA-designated high risk coastal flood zone. “This is an area where of course we are going to see flooding worsen, sea level rise, that means Bassick High would be at risk of flooding,” she said.

To mitigate flood damage, the architectural design of the new school elevates the first floor to withstand a FEMA 25-year flood risk.

“Even if the first floor does not get flooded because you raise it an entire story, that does not change the fact that the entire neighborhood would be flooded. It doesn’t change the fact that students would either be missing more school or would have to navigate the flood on the street,” she said.

A selling point that city officials have made for the new location is that it would have a sports field which Bassick’s present location does not have.

Morris said that is not enough reason for the move.

“There has to be more alternatives available than sacrificing health and longevity in a climate crisis for a football field. Especially where it would be a shared football field, or sports field with colleges and the general public,” she said.

Coastal flooding is one of several environmental problems in the South End of Bridgeport, said Julimar Ortiz, a West End resident who also attended Bassick and is actively involved in opposing the move.

“It’s also located right in the middle of a highly polluted area. There are several industries there that cause air pollution. The power plant is there," Ortiz said. "A lot of these students who live in the West End and the South side of Bridgeport already breathe in a lot of toxic chemicals and air pollution due to the heavy industry in that area. So now you are bringing their school closer to it."

“If this was Fairfield, or Westport or another wealthier, predominantly white community, city or government officials wouldn’t dare to move a school a mile, and build it in a flood zone, without having some kind of transparency and accountability around the project,” she added.

She indicated that the activists will continue their opposition to the school moving to the new location.

But Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim has said that all the approvals needed to move ahead with the construction of the $129 million building that will house the new Bassick High School and Bridgeport Military Academy have been obtained.

“We are through the last stage, I guess you’d say the last approval was received. Pretty soon we’ll be out there with the symbolic but also real groundbreaking,” Ganim said.

However, the decision to schedule when that would be is up to the Bridgeport Board of Education, the mayor said.

“It’s moving ahead now, I think what was said to me was this was the last piece of paper or the last hurdle that we needed to make sure that Bassick is a hundred percent go and would be completed as quick as we can,” he said.

Ganim said the city has also dealt with the environmental concerns at the location which was bought from the University of Bridgeport, and is next to the city’s Seaside Park.

“Of course, anything in the South End, those type of issues are there, so they have basically addressed whatever needs to be done to make sure that the flood plain and the resiliency are all coordinated in way that will allow this project to be the best success it's going to be as the new Bassick High School," he said.

In the meantime, the Bridgeport Board of Education has yet to set a date for the groundbreaking, according to Bridgeport School Superintendent Alyshia Perrin. In an email response to WSHU, she said that the board cannot schedule a groundbreaking before the state Department of School Construction allows them to issue construction contracts.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.