BRISTOL – After nearly 100 years since it was first opened, the building now recognized as the Bristol Arts and Innovation Magnet School and Rockwell Community Theater will open this Monday to hundreds of students in the newest iteration of a historic ship which opened the roads of the future for many city dwellers.
Visitors, City and Bristol Public Schools leaders came together to celebrate the opening of the school and reflected on the past journey and future hopes for creating a brighter Bristol.
“Today is an opportunity to recognize and thank those members of our community who have advocated and pledged to ensure that this building, this gift to the city, Bristol’s former high school and theatre, continues to be part of Bristol’s future as a school and community centre,” said BPS Superintendent Dr Catherine Carbone.
The superintendent noted that the intentions of former Bristol industrialist and philanthropist Albert Rockwell were clear when he donated land to the city for the creation of the Memorial Boulevard area and school with the words “leisure” and “education” inscribed outside.
“One hundred years later, we are preparing to welcome the future generation of students with the same intention, to ensure that they are exposed to and explore the arts and sciences, create dreams and organize new possibilities,” continued Carbon.
In 2018, former superintendent Dr. Susan Kalt-Moreau, along with the school board, developed a plan for the creation of an intradistrict arts and drama schools program, Carbone said. BAIMS will serve as a comprehensive college and day destination for high school students participating in unique course options focused on engineering, technical sciences, entertainment management, communications technology, performing arts, music, visual arts and more.
School Board President Jennifer Dube called BAIMS a central part of the board’s reinvention plan as the district seeks to redesign, upgrade its buildings with various infrastructure projects, improve programming and more.
“As you will see, the state-of-the-art facility and equipment will inspire young minds and spark a desire to learn with passion and determination,” she said. “Having the new high school component, in addition to our other high schools, expands the pathways and opportunities that our older students can use in the quest to prepare for their future.”
Deputy Superintendent and Chairman of the BAIMS Building Committee, Dr Michael Dietter, noted that nearly a century ago Rockwell was responsible for providing Bristol with land with its expertise to secure the construction of Bristol High School . When it opened, its initial enrollment was 560 students and the total construction cost of the building was $932,000. During its years of service, the structure has been recognized as Bristol High School, Bristol Central High School, Bristol Junior High School, Memorial Boulevard Middle School and now as BAIMS.
“In all settings the theater remained a constant gathering place, often for happy celebrations and productions and sometimes for somber productions, such as after the news of Bristol’s first casualty of World War II, Edmund Zbikowski” , continued the deputy superintendent. “In addition to being a majestic and proud anchor of Veterans Memorial Boulevard, this building represents the tapestry of stories and experiences woven through time and generations.”
Bristol Mayor Jeff Caggiano praised contributors to building the school for finishing on time and under budget and echoed a former chairman of the BPS board in saying the companies of Bristol would be improved and that the Rockwell Theater would help deliver on the promise of a vibrant city center that would reflect the high street of a hundred years ago.
Former mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said recreating the school was a 15-year project, since the school board first offered thoughts on realigning her district. She went on to say that it had been a long struggle to keep the building as public property instead of being sold for private use.
Angela Cahill, lead architect on the project with Q+AM Architecture, said the recreation of BAIMS suited the company because architecture bridged the arts and science. She said the company is dedicated to continuing stronger school programs as well as mentoring local students who help and learn on the spot during construction in the building.
By surprise, Bob Adamczyk and Nicki LaPorte from the Bristol Historical Society arrived in 1920s attire to historically re-enact the husband and wife duo, Albert Rockwell and Nettie Brown Rockwell, respectively.
Tony D’Amato, D’Amato Downes Joint Venture, thanked the community for the opportunity to participate in a community landmark. Project director Frank Tomcak said at least 100 tradespeople had been on hand to assemble the new BAIMS and it had been a long road through the supply chain and pandemic challenges, however. He was happy to see the project finally come together.
Building committee member John Smith, who was a former school trustee and teacher at Bristol Public Schools, praised the work done on the building and stressed the importance of a new ‘1922’ building delivering ‘2022’ education -plus” to Bristol students. .