I’m going through this thing now where people are contacting me, asking what is going on with Bridge Street School. I can answer questions because I’ve documented its history for 20 years. This unlikely interest in a schoolhouse is very ironic. Dad’s defense industry job included moving a lot. To attend 23 different schools in several parts of the country going from K through 12 has to be one for the record books. Some 38 years ago I got stationed here in Suffield permanently. My career as photojournalist, writer, and artist was really more an appointment than a choice. Each day I take up a job where a rejected issue must be rendered meaningful.
This Town has so many interesting people. I began taking up the interests of community leaders – residents with jobs and family who dearly embraced other aspects of community family; the church, the library, schools, and recreation. A situation presented itself in 2002. A historic farmstead known as Hilltop faced the prospect of being removed to make way for commercial development. It’s thriving today – a far greater resource asset than commercial tax based revenue.
Most callers ask; “What happened with Bridge Street School?” “Didn’t the Town vote to use it?” and “How can it suddenly be demolished!?” To reply I begin by asking questions: Why, when overflowing enthusiasm for it being renewed with a full size gymnasium, a fully outfitted athletic department and outdoor field not bound to constraints of school hours and activity, Why when a hub in town for economic development with a financially self-sustaining early childhood education center, an established location for youth and families to explore self-enrichment in total recreation and wellness – all things not requiring a hand held device – WHY? What ‘something’ interfered?
How appropriate that such a place would be housed in a new Community Center.
For 80+ years Suffield people raised up American citizens who as adults, would conserve that legacy for their youngsters. It is a site where literacy, civility and integrity had been imparted generation after generation.
“Why not?” I answer; Yes, residents in town rallied after a failed attempt by Town officials to sell the property for commercial development. Yes the letter of the law was observed to bring another question to referendum two years later, which passed “YES” by 9%. This granted a right to take ownership of what was called for and make it so! “Ok, what happened in the space of two years that is now leading to demolition day?” It turns out that one day in September 2017, a single person who with pen in hand, and a responsibility to serve the will of the electorate, without prior notice said “No.”
“Wait! Isn’t there a law?” Yes the laws of Town plainly state; “The First Selectman, subject to the approval of the Board of Selectmen, shall execute or cause to be executed…town resolutions.” It doesn’t include if, and, or but. Actually, two additional laws support this one too. “Well, was the entire Board of Selectmen included in this NO decision?” They were not. The majority of that 2017 Board, plus other officials, committees, and commissions aligned to begin the project were knocked over like bowling pins. No single-handed decision-making power of such consequence is granted the First Selectman except in public safety emergencies.
“Is this how the referendum question got yanked back for another debate and second chance vote?” YES that’s it. “Wait a minute, this building had been heated and kept up all these years – suddenly it is declared dangerous, falling down and condemned – are you serious?” Yep, Now, the commercial developers waiting in the wings will be welcomed.
At this point I have to share some details in this public forum. A wonderful and far-reaching possibility to enhance well-being here, plus layers of ways to pay it off with minimal impact on taxpayers was the official plan. A not-for-profit fundraising group was lining up numerous available grants, big dollar “naming rights” gift donations, and fundraising events. The Friends of BSCC had already secured $640k in grants and pledges without a contract signing. The decision to say “NO” and sweep this resolution away was not up to just one person. It doesn’t work that way– it never has. We all welcome building up a strong commercial tax base, but not when an administration breaks down democracy with a power grab to do it.
My service to Suffield includes writing historic journals. At 350 years, today’s history includes these details of a dangerous precedent occurring: A First Selectman granting themselves, and every future successor a unilateral vote canceling power.
Please oppose forever changing our landscape of law and land. Call and say no. Residents and our Board of Finance hold the only power over injustice here. Contact – #StopBSSDemolition. Now is the most tumultuous action and decision-making time most of us will ever know.
Ed. note: At the October 21 BOS meeting the BOS voted to demolish the school.