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Hatch & Bailey purchase called ‘milestone’ for City, South Norwalk

Monday’s Norwalk Common Council meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — A celebratory mood marked Monday’s Common Council meeting as members unanimously green-lighted a $14 million purchase of land for a South Norwalk neighborhood school.

“This is a significant milestone in the City’s efforts to bring a much-needed school back to South Norwalk, efforts that have been going on since at least 2016. … The students in South Norwalk will no longer have to spend a good part of their days bused across the city. It makes it easier, and easier for families to be involved in school activities,” said Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E).

The ensuing vote approved not only the purchase of the 11.74 acre parcel at 1 Meadow St. Ext. from Hatch & Bailey Co. but also increased the school’s budget from $72 million to $76 million.

The City has been working towards building a new school in South Norwalk since at least 2015, when a Board of Education facilities study recommended building a magnet school off Ely Street, adjacent to Roodner Court.

That plan hinged on using a sliver of park property and faced opposition from then-State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and then-Council member Travis Simms, who became more powerful when Morris retired and he won election to the District 140 seat. Last year, City leaders admitted the plan wouldn’t come to fruition, even if they’d spent more than $710,000 on acquiring Tito Court properties through the eminent domain process, and started looking for alternatives.

The winds favored the effort in one way: Norwalk’s demographics have changed and the City is no longer required to maintain State racial balancing standards. The plan has therefore switched from a magnet school to a neighborhood school, long desired by the area’s residents.

Still, the school won’t accommodate all of the neighborhood’s children. Admission will be via a lottery, open only to South Norwalk residents, and it’s expected that some parents will opt to send their children to other schools for special programs.

Hatch & Bailey’s property is appraised at $8.1 million, according to the City’s website. Mayor Harry Rilling, Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King and Livingston did not respond to a Monday email asking for an explanation about the gulf between the appraisal and the $14 million purchase price.

A look at the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG) geographic information system (GIS) map makes it obvious that the Hatch & Bailey site stands alone in South Norwalk, in terms of its size.

“By purchasing the parcel, we avoid the need to try to assemble a parcel large enough for school,” Livingston said during Monday’s Zoom meeting. “And because the purchase was negotiated on a friendly basis, we don’t need to use eminent domain and won’t have to disrupt and relocate residents. The purchase price I think we all know reflects negotiations between friendly partners parties and each party’s independent appraisals.”

“It’s a very friendly kind of negotiation that we didn’t put them out of business or anything else. it’s a group effort to work out something that that that satisfy both of our needs,” said Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo.

Rilling did not attend the meeting as he is at a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering, Livingston said.

The $4 million budget increase is “due to the purchase price of the project and anticipated escalation in construction costs,” Livingston said.

Lo explained that the budget factors in 3.5% inflation but currently the construction industry is seeing 6-to-8% cost escalations. “It all depends,” and there are “indications that some of the construction industry is slowing down a little bit because the interest rate going up and all that stuff.” There’s also about $2 million in contingency funds for the school.

Last month, the State legislature approved an increase in Norwalk’s new school construction reimbursement rate, from 22.5% to 60%.

The budget for the school was based on the expected 22.5% reimbursement, Lo said Monday. With 60%, the City is saving $20-25 million.

“We want to count every penny, every dollar that the city put into the project,” but at the same time, “there’s a possibility there can be a look at additional funding from the city side,” Lo said.

The City expected to pay $53 million but with the higher State contribution, “you could look at that as the amount of money we could bear because of inflationary costs, and it would break even,” agreed Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz. Given the high inflation, “I guess what we have to do is to build these schools as quickly as possible once we get approval from the state.”

Lo said it should take three years to build the school, including 18 months for the design process.

The City is investing $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund for sidewalks and pedestrian improvements, Livingston said.

Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large) called it a “huge relief” that environmental tests done on the property resulted in a positive analysis from Louriero Engineering. Council members felt the report was “substantial” and it “alleviated some of our concerns about the site,” she said.

First, consultants studied the history of the property and then sampled its soil and water, Lo said. All the results came back “below the limit,” except for “some kind of natural occurring minerals that was shown to be a little bit higher than what standards are.”

It’s “extremely, extremely unusual for industrial property and it’s very, very positive results we got back,” Lo said. “And because there’s no hazardous material on site, there’s no remediation required, there’s no removal of any soil on the site.”

“The final draft reports are being reviewed and the final report will be made available to the public in the near future,” Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.

“I feel like this is such a win for the community to have a property of this size, it’s going to allow for so much playing field space,” Niedzielski-Eichner said during Monday’s meeting. “And it turns out to be so clean. I think that’s something really to be celebrated and very grateful for.”

“I think this is just such a landmark project and development for South Norwalk. And as a South Norwalk resident, I think that this is going to be a massive development for the community,” Council member Josh Goldstein (D-At Large) said.

“This is such an important moment for the city of Norwalk, and for the children and families of South Norwalk,” said Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large).

The vote itself turned into a bit of a contest of words.

  • “Enthusiastically yes,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.
  • “Wholeheartedly yes,” Smyth said.
  • “Definitely yes,” Council member Jenn McMurrer (D-District C) said.

 

Afterwards, Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) said, “There have been a lot of people in the community who have endured not such nice things during this process, that started well before any of us. I think we are at a turning point for our city and particularly our young children, but it’s not going to be easy. I there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of equity that needs to be included in this whole process and on what the school looks like in the area.”

Niedzielski-Eichner touched on that last week during a discussion with Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin, who said the school site would zoned D residence under changes proposed by the Industrial Zone study. Niedzielski-Eichner suggested a “substantially” rethinking Meadow Street’s zoning, as well as creating protections for today’s renters and homeowners rather than letting rising values push people out.

Young said Monday, “We don’t want a new school to gentrify our area, we want the families that are there to be able to live there comfortably, and have their children grow and learn in a place that they want to be, and they feel safe.”

19 comments

Mack June 7, 2022 at 10:08 am

Great to see this finally happening in our City. I have always been in favor of our children going to the schools that serve their neighborhoods. I just don’t believe that anything can replace this experience ……..not even busing. While I’m aware of the arguments against my view on this, it is time to move forward and to get out of the old worn out box our kids have been in for decades. Norwalk will no doubt make this work and our students will all benefit by it. This is just “great”.

Tysen Canevari June 7, 2022 at 5:38 pm

SO we are paying 14 million for a property valued at 8.1 million? Also, Courville Nurseries occupies more of that property than Hatch and Bailey does. Where will they be relocated Mr. Mayor? Oh, that will be a hush hush deal. Seems like Hatch and Bailey got a nice thank you gift from Norwalk to the tune of an extra 6 million. Curious where in Norwalk Courville will go?

Mitch Adis June 7, 2022 at 7:13 pm

Maybe The nursery can move to the other property we bought on Tito Court for $1,000,000!!! Or how about the house we bought on Fillow Street from the Mosque?!!

Katherine Snedaker June 8, 2022 at 12:12 am

For everyone who loves this location… I invite you to walk from the Yellow Store to Hatch and Bailey. I have spent the last 30 years driving this route several times a day. But get out of your cars and since kids will be walking to their school, I ask you to walk past the lines of trucks waiting to get into the various dumping grounds of metal and used cars. Smell the fire and breathe the smoke when the dump piles burn. Walk by the trucks waiting to dump the city’s garage. Breath in the smells of hot garbage and rotting food. Try to ride your bike along Meadow Street with school buses and city buses are backed up as they return after their shift. Experienced the speeding traffic when 95 shuts down and angry commuters cut through Norwalk on Route 136. Now walk up Knapp Street and imagine lanes of cars and more buses passing through these narrow streets. The families on these streets have put up with environmental nightmares for years. No one ever seemed to care. After this tour, tell me why you are dumping a school on this area next to all the other dumps??

Lisa Brinton June 8, 2022 at 4:30 am

Price – Norwalk’s local government is either the dumbest or most corrupt in the state. This whole South Norwalk school debacle stretching out a half dozen years culminates across from the dump? I’ll say it. Would Rowayton or Cranbury parents send their kids there? However, our so called social justice, environmental and self righteous council and BOE think paying nearly double for a waste site is ok for South Norwalk kids – after abandoning two existing elementary sites? This needs to be exposed via more national media because local news keeps putting lipstick on this pig. Does Anderson Cooper still do his ‘Ridiculist’ ? And the local RTC – crickets. This is what happens, along with 15 story spot zoning when there is single party rule.

Nancy McGuire June 8, 2022 at 7:16 am

Good points, Katherine. We have been waiting for years for the Planning and Zoning Department to reduce the minimum lot size on the lots along MLK Drive so contractors have a location option that’s not smack in the middle of the residential neighborhood. A school might not be ideal for traffic, but it’s a heck of a lot better than another ugly six story apartment block.

Mack June 8, 2022 at 7:21 am

Katherine S…….WOW! I feel foolish having never considered these very serious concerns in forming my opinion. Thank you. Wonder if they were included in the process, made part of the discussion, or just ignored for reasons unknown. Do you think we will ever get answers? Thank again for bringing them up.

David Rysz June 8, 2022 at 3:35 pm

Katherine has identified the real issues. I no longer live in Norwalk but remember the traffic / smells etc on Meadow street. Have any of the folks in charge taken a trip to the area on a weekday?

DrewT June 8, 2022 at 3:39 pm

@Tysen It’s The Norwalk Way! It’s shouldn’t surprise you or anyone. But keep voting for the same garbage and this is what you get!

Frank Izzo June 8, 2022 at 7:18 pm

I see it as the first step in the beautification of this entire area. All your complaining about waste is valid, but honestly, this area is a wasteland. Bring good stuff into the area and watch it thrive! That’s my hope and I’m sticking to it!

Spanman June 9, 2022 at 10:46 am

OK let’s cut the BS. Everyone know that a property’s assessed value on the tax card is not the market price for any property. If you don’t believe me look up your own house on the City’s website and tell me if you would sell for that.

How concerned is everyone about the location of Stepping Stones and Matthews Park playground? You are not? They are twice as close to a waste transfer station as the H&B site.

Traffic concerns? having a school literally across the street from the bus depot will eliminate empty bus traveling all over the city, you couldn’t pick a more ideal location in that regard.

Erik Anderson June 9, 2022 at 1:10 pm

@Frank Izzo I appreciate your optimism. I would hope that with this plan going through the city would have a plan to “beautify” the area before our families start arriving at a new school. Call me skeptic, but I find that prospect doubtful at best. The Meadow Street neighborhood definitely needs major attention and revitalization, mostly for the existing residents in the area. The “if you build it” thought process causes great concern for me. On top of which, I find it extremely discouraging that the city would only target improvements to this area AFTER spending a very large sum of money on a plot of land. There are so many issues with what is planned for the South Norwalk school. Like many other comments above, I too am very disheartened and frustrated in our current leadership.

Margaret June 10, 2022 at 1:36 pm

So now “We aren’t going to bus children from South Norwalk all over Norwalk “? I remember when busing first started. The families NEVER felt connected to the school. So now will this school be mostly the minority population that was bussed ? I guess we will no longer worry about racially balanced school? All parents in the area will want a local school. Interesting

George June 11, 2022 at 7:28 am

Spanman- you do know that City Carting is a waste transfer station located about 1500 FEET away from H & B right? Do you also know that there are two metal scrap yards about 2000 feet away.

And of course you know that there are two stone processing plants behind those same locations right?

Just up the road in the other direction is DHL, the school bus yard, and a heavy industrial area.

Have to been down Meadow Street at 7am or before City opens? Try going by to look. Get there around 630am on a Monday and watch. There are tractor trailers moving around, dump trucks, garbage trucks, landscapers, school busses, parked vehicles and normal car traffic trying to squeeze down an blocked two lane road.

Having a school in an industrial area with the amount of traffic and dust is best for a school how? Do tell.

As for the assessed value vs. the market value. The 8.6 million is the assessed value which is 70 percent of the market value. Thirty percent added to 8.6 million does not add up to 14 million dollars.

Word on the street is that H & B was not doing to well so what better way to get bailed out than to get over paid from the mayor and taxpayers for the land and hopefully save the business as well.

Oh, and by the way, the property would come off of the tax rolls too.

John O'Neill June 11, 2022 at 3:02 pm

@George – The biggest problem with your argument is it’s way too logical. It is possible that by the time the school is built BOE will decide kids learn best between 11:00 and 11:15 and set schedule accordingly. That would alleviate any concern about kids crossing in front of tractor trailers…

Tysen Canevari June 11, 2022 at 6:51 pm

Great points George! But Teflon Harry gets away with whatever he chooses to do in this town. Whether it makes sense or not. I wonder what the required campaign donation will be in the upcoming election? Maybe donate gas cards to him for his big boat at Sono boat club. The offer of 14 million doesnt add up but our robotic council will rubber stamp it anyway.

Bobby Lamb June 13, 2022 at 12:07 am

District B voters take note. Lisa Brinton and Katherine Sneadaker do not want South Norwalk children to have a neighborhood school. Their objection to the school? It’s in South Norwalk – which according to them is unfit for children? Children currently live in this neighborhood! Children currently walk on these sidewalks! This is another dog whistle moment from the Lisa camp. They are all for new schools for other neighborhoods- but no end to reasons why South Norwalk doesn’t deserve its own school. Frank is right – this school will be beautiful, the neighborhood will be improved with better streets and sidewalks. This is a huge win for kids and families who will no longer have to be bussed all over town – or told their neighborhood is too crummy for the city to invest in.

Lisa Brinton June 13, 2022 at 8:20 pm

Newsflash @ Bobby Lamb – I live in South Norwalk, as does Katherine…but you knew that already 🤣 Ely School should have been rebuilt & repurposed next to Roodner Court and the Grass Roots tennis courts I regularly volunteer at, but the politics of South Norwalk saw fit to stop it. No attempt was made to locate & purchase a small patch of open space. I drive past the H&B site daily and have for 25 years and the dog whistle I hear from you is that South Norwalk students only deserve their own school so long ad it’s next to an industrial waste dump, scrap yard or bus depot. Good to know.

Tysen Canevari June 13, 2022 at 11:30 pm

@Bobby. The neighborhood will be improved? Is the dump going away? Is the junk yard being removed? Cmon You and Mushak always drinking the punch from Harry and gang. Where will the nursery be relocated? Why do we pay 14 million for a place appraised at 8 million? The only requirement is now Hatch and Bailey has to make $1000 donations to Harry’s campaign now. Why not put a high rise there too? Probably the worst mayor since the late Jennie Cave with the funny hats!

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