CT Construction Digest Monday June 22, 2020
STRATFORD — A developer wants to put a five-story apartment building and several town homes on the former Center School property on Sutton Avenue.
The answer to the question of what to do with the roughly three-acre property in the heart of downtown — off Sutton Avenue and across Interstate 95 from the Stratford train station — has proven elusive since the school, which opened in 1970, was decommissioned in 2005 and sat empty until it was demolished in 2018.
After months of talks, the chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, George Perham, unveiled Bedford, N.Y.-based Xenolith Partners as the town’s preferred developers.
The firm’s plan for the property is called “Stratford Walk,” and is designed to encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment with usable open space that complements the town’s “Complete Streets” plan.
Xenolith’s Andrea Kretchmer and Terri Belkas-Mitchell said they estimated costs at roughly $31 million with the hope that the apartments could be online in 2024.
They said the company is familiar dealing with historic and public properties, pointing to projects in New Britain and Schenectady, N.Y.
“Public involvement is critical to our work,” Belkas-Mitchell said. “We prioritize it in a way that our partners tend to appreciate and it creates better buildings for communities, we think.”
Most of the apartments — 67 to 80 units — would be in a five-story mid-rise building at the part of the property closest to I-95.
Another 18 units would be in four low-rise buildings fronting Sutton Avenue. A dozen units are planned for the building currently housing Board of Education offices and two units are planned for a historic building on East Broadway.
Plans showed a total of 128 parking spaces. On-site retail was not considered because of proximity to other commercial developments nearby, Perham said.
As part of the deal, the company is asking the town to sell the property for $1 and a partial 17-year property tax abatement, with a full abatement during the project’s two-year construction period.
Rents for 80 percent of the units would be between $1,078 for studios to $1,386 for two-bedrooms to qualify for workforce housing development tax credits. The developers estimated market-rate rents for the remaining units at $1,450 to $2,100.
Town Council Chairman Chris Pia asked residents to check out the plans on the town’s website at http://www.townofstratford.com/centerschool and share their thoughts.
Mayor Laura Hoydick on Friday said the presentation is “a community talking point.”
Last September, the town asked for “transit-oriented” proposals from the three companies, which came back Oct. 3 “Of the submissions we got, this was the most viable,” she said. “The RDA needs to take the temperature of the community and the temperature of the council on this project.”
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Some school board members raised concerns last week after learning about the project’s education specifications from representatives of Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain-based architectural firm that the board has worked with on forming the project’s vision since last June.
Brian Solywoda, a principal at Kaestle Boos, told the school board during last week’s meeting that the school’s baseball and softball programs would have to be played off campus for at least three years during building construction.
The review of the education specifications came after Mayor Elinor C. Carbone last Monday advanced the project to referendum, which is scheduled to appear on the presidential election ballot on Nov. 3.
School board member Jess Richardson explained the baseball and softball programs may face a tricky situation if forced to find fields off campus. Future’s Field and Torrington Middle School are possible locations the baseball program could move to, but they’d be competing with other teams for field use and the middle school field has no lights, she said.
“I personally wish some of these factors had been considered before we got to this point, not just specific to this,” Richardson said, “but specific to a lot of these trickle-down effects that we haven’t talked about yet.”Board member Ellen Hoehne said the Toro Sports Complex could possibly host the softball program since one of its fields is barely used.
Business Director Ed Arum said the district wouldn’t need to pay the Parks and Recreation Department for off-campus field use after board member Molly Spino raised concerns about costs.
“We have to get through the referendum first to figure it out,” Superintendent Susan Lubomski said on the field plan. “In the meantime, we can develop plans – A, B and C – to figure out what is the best for a particular sport within the community, so we don’t lose those spots because it is competitive. We want to make sure we have something for our students.”Solywoda said the building’s four-story high school wing would be constructed first, starting in the spring of 2022, before the three-story middle school wing would get underway that summer since a portion of the middle school’s wing is overlapping a portion of the existing high school.
A temporary parking lot on some field areas would also be formed, Solywoda said.
“The site is kind of fluid for a couple years,” he said. “We’re going to be moving some things around. All in all, this was the best scenario that came out because of the duration of construction.”
If approved in November, the project would cost the city $74.5 million, while the state would cover 62.5% of the $159.8 million total cost through an $85 million reimbursement.
The school board voted in favor of the education specifications, but Spino said there’s a lot to be figured out before community forums are held in the coming months.
“I’m hoping as we move forward with our building committee that we can discuss all the different possibilities that may come up during this project,” she said.