Stratford Town Council marks Center School for demolition
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, January 14, 2018
STRATFORD — The Town Council has taken action on a pressing item that was tabled since July 11, 2016 — what to do with Center School on Sutton Place, an unused, 3-acre site that many have eyed as the perfect place for downtown shops, housing and a parking garage.
Now that dream is a step closer to reality, after the council agreed last week to move forward on decontaminating and demolishing the school, which opened in 1970.
This was only the second regular meeting of the council that was elected in November. Although Center School was an issue that drew about 50 people to a downtown street rally in July 2016 — mostly to protest development plans — there was no one in the gallery to offer any dissent this time around.
On the previous council, members seemed determined to open the building as a school again, saying that there were too many temporary classrooms in town. But then-mayor John Harkins said the thought of reopening Center School was “ill-advised at best,” because that would entail bringing it up to present-day school building codes, a very costly proposition.
Center School, which at one time housed about 255 students in grades K-6, was mostly mothballed in 2005, Only a small number students remained there in special programs until 2015.
The previous council’s desire to halt development of the Center School site was always a pebble Harkins’ shoe. In July 2016 he called a hasty press conference, during which he denounced the council unwillingness to OK demolition.
“The number one complaint I get is that taxes are too high,” Harkins said then. “Well, here’s a way we can reduce taxes — with new revenue streams.”
Even the School Board agreed.
“The school board doesn’t want it, and if it were turned back into a school, we wouldn’t accept it,” said former Board of Education Chairman James Feehan on more than one occasion.
Mayor Laura Hoydick said after last week’s meeting that an earlier plan, to use the parcel for a 600-car parking garage, is out the window.
“I agree that a large parking garage is not the best use of that parcel,” she said. “I know we need some parking there, and retail is always good. And this parcel is right next to the Metro-North station, so it would make sense to have some residential development there as well.”
The town has received a grants to help turn that vision into a reality. First was a $1.25 million brownfields grant that will be used to decontaminate the building so it’ll be safe for demolition.
And it was announced on Tuesday that the town received a $450,000 Complete Streets grant from the state, to be used to design a number of improvements for a portion on Main Street and Barnum Avenue to enhance safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. This was in addition to a $200,000 urban planning grant that was awarded earlier from the state, also involving the center of town.
Officials in Town Hall see the Center School site as ripe for so-called Transit-Oriented Development. This caters to millennials, who value proximity to mass transit and downtown attractions over homes in the country.