SYRACUSE — State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins wants to help establish the first science, technology, engineering, arts and math high school in central New York.
Stewart-Cousins joined state Sen. Rachel May for a tour of the former Central Tech High School in Syracuse. The school, which was built in the early 1900s, has been closed since 1975.
The Syracuse City School District and Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES plans to renovate the historic building and open the "STEAM" school that would offer several programs, including construction management and engineering, performing arts and robotics.
The structure has an asset that could make it an attractive site for performing arts students. The Lincoln Auditorium, named for the 16th president, has a nearly 1,900-seat capacity.
After a tour of the auditorium with May and Syracuse Superintendent Jaime Alicea, Stewart-Cousins remarked that the venue was "gorgeous."
"I would like to see our kids in central New York perform here," Alicea said.
There are several hurdles for the project. Alicea said they are working to finalize a cost estimate. Rehabilitating the school will be a considerable cost. Significant work on the building's interior is needed before it opens to students.
The proposed school is part of the city's "Syracuse Surge" economic development plan. Some funding for the school could come from central New York's remaining Upstate Revitalization Initiative funds. The region won $500 million in the 2015 economic development contest.
Sharon Owens, Syracuse's deputy mayor, described the school's redevelopment as a "pinnacle project" within the Syracuse Surge plan.
"Not only are we going to be preparing the existing workforce, but preparing the future workforce," she said.
Alicea hopes the school will open for the 2021-22 academic year. The initial goal is to have 150 ninth-graders in the program at the start, then phase in more students in subsequent years.
At its capacity, the school could host up to 1,000 students.
Stewart-Cousins is supportive of the plan.
"What I'm very, very happy to hear is the collaborative nature of everyone who understands how important it is to invest in education, to invest in our children, to invest in building a workforce and the workforce that will be doing this," she said. "It really is a win-win-win situation."
The school wouldn't be limited to Syracuse students. Through its partnership with OCM BOCES, Alicea said the school district has letters of support from 12 other central New York districts.
If the school opens as planned, 60 percent of the students will reside in Syracuse. The remaining student population will come from districts outside the city.
Bringing city and suburban students together, May said, makes the proposed STEAM school a "very exciting project." Alicea agreed.
"We want to make this a reality for all the kids in central New York," he said.
Stewart-Cousins' tour of the school followed lunch with May and a meeting with local officials. It was the majority leader's first visit to central New York since Democrats took control of the state Senate in January.