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Norwalk Council Committee moves SoNo school $14M land purchase forward

Wednesday’s Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Hatch & Bailey site has passed environmental inspections and is a good property to build a school on, Norwalk Common Council members were advised Wednesday.

Land Use and Building Management Committee members voted unanimously to move the proposed $14 million expenditure to buy 1 Meadow St. Ext., and a $4 million hike in the South Norwalk neighborhood school’s budget, to the full Council for a vote in a special meeting to be held Monday.

Test results “definitely look good and that the site is appropriate for school. I’ve worked on a lot of school sites. And this is stunning in how good it is for purposes of school, given its history,” Attorney Ann Catino of Halloran & Sage told the Committee.

The City has been working towards building a new school in South Norwalk since 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 did not work out.

“Through an evolution of ideas, a new concept was developed during the summer of 2021 which incorporated a significant number of the educational, community and financial objectives,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo explained in a memo to the Council members.

In November, the Council voted to close two related South Norwalk school construction projects totaling $76 million and instead authorize a $72 million special appropriation to build a South Norwalk neighborhood school in an undisclosed location.

Lo has been working through the process for months, seeking approval of another $4 million for the project, to bring it to the total originally approved. The Board of Estimate and Taxation greenlighted the appropriation May 10.

The money is needed as “a result of the expected purchase price of the property as well as construction cost escalation,” Lo wrote in the memo.

With a June 30 deadline to apply for a State grant for the school, Mayor Harry Rilling confirmed last week that the 11.74-acre 1 Meadow St. Ext. parcel is the property the City has been discussing for more than a year. It’s appraised at $8.1 million, according to the City’s website.

Hatch & Bailey, a family-owned business, has been operating at the site since 1986, providing supplies to professional contractors, last week’s news release explains.

The purchase agreement is “99 percent” complete “and we expect that will be resolved in the next day or two,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan said Wednesday. It’s a “typical real estate closing” and what’s left is “nothing that won’t work itself out.”

Lo and Callahan stressed that the due diligence of environmental investigation was done. Lo called it a “very conservative” approach.

Callahan said Louriero Engineering investigated the property and called Louriero “a very respected firm.”

“Our representatives were made acutely aware that a school is going here …soil and water samples were conducted, taken. And those samplings were done, as indicated by the Phase One report which is standard protocol…. we were very pleased with the results of phase two,” Callahan said.

Catino, Chairwoman of the Halloran & Sage’s Environmental & Land Use Law Practice Group, also said the City took a “very conservative approach looking at evaluating the property.”

A review showed the Connecticut Transfer Act would not apply, she said.

The Connecticut Transfer Act requires the disclosure of environmental conditions when certain properties and/or businesses change hands, though it became less restrictive in 2020.

Hatch & Bailey recently demolished a building on the site and generated hazardous waste, Catino said, adding that the one-time act fell under an exemption and neither party has to report it to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

However, “part of the conservatism that the city took” is that engineers “presumed that the remediation standard regulations would apply” and compared site samples to “remediation standard regulations,” Catino said.

“The sample results came back extremely well. Doesn’t appear as if there were any releases associated with the historic operations of the property either as a full-service Lumberyard, hardware stores, cement block manufacturer” or other manufacturing, Catino said.

Heavy metals found in the samples “appear to be naturally occurring… which are all manageable during site development, those will be subject to further investigation, but as part of very normal and natural site development activities,” Catino said.

Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) brought up other aspects of environmental suitability. The City is investing $1.5 million for sidewalks in the area, he said.

He also said Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin is considering the area’s zoning. It’s been zoned Industrial but that’s been scaled back to Light Industrial, and the entire block will be changed to residential, according to Livingston.

Updated, 2:04 p.m.: More information.

10 comments

Ron June 2, 2022 at 6:49 am

I’ve heard that this property was obtained thru eminent domain. Is that true? Also adding residential in the area will this be in the way of apartments? How many children will be attending the school and what type of school is it? Dolce Center is also being tuned into a school so are we expecting the population to grow that much? Just curious to hear and understand more details. If anyone has more info please let me know.

Johnny cardamone June 2, 2022 at 8:20 am

What a waste of money we already have in it the only early school down the street which could be used and now the Columbus crew was sitting empty a short distance away on Chestnut they could have two small neighborhood schools in my opinion this is crazy

Piberman June 2, 2022 at 10:53 am

Buying land for a new school but unable to post a public plan for improving our City’s public school embarrassing inability to graduate most students who meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards. Whom is our BOE working students ? Doesn’t seem like the students. Systematic failure to meet CT Edu Dept standards is unfair to our students, their parents and taxpayers. But City leaders in our One Party City have other concerns.
Some 70% of our City budget funds our public schools and they’re failing to meet CT Edu Dept criteria for success. But it seems OK at City Hall.

David Osler June 2, 2022 at 3:11 pm

I have very mixed feelings about this my first question is why not the property immediately next door that used to be the college the old college building is and has been empty for years and is already set up as a school when they bring property is also physically big enough. Additionally the warehouses off of Woodward where there is already a town playground and sports field would also make significant sense for such a project. Not to mention the land that a lot of those apartments went on to that’s the type of planning a town like Greenwich does putting a school in the middle of their downtown as a major attraction for residents to bring families. The type of planning Norwalk has never done

Tysen Canevari June 2, 2022 at 5:20 pm

How about the huge nursery that occupies half of the Hatch and Bailey site currently. Where in the city will they relocate? With all the silly regulations in this town against contractors there is basically no where. ALthough, I have been told that Harry and company have promised Courville Nurseries a new home. Lets see where that is. Also, Columbus school will be sold for more great apartments to be built. What a huge surprise!

Steve June 2, 2022 at 8:19 pm

Columbus requires enormous renovations and repair . I hope that those unhappy with the schools, volunteer and try to be part of the solution

Taxpayer June 4, 2022 at 10:26 am

@ Steve we pay taxes for proper maintenance. A lot of taxes actually. According to your comment it’s not enough and you want us to pay taxes and do maintenance also?

Sarah June 4, 2022 at 11:19 pm

Taxpayer, the BoE does not decide how the taxes are levied or allocated. So yes. You should also volunteer if you’re going to complain.

Taxpayer June 6, 2022 at 4:27 pm

The BoE receives the majority of the city budget and gets to decide how they spend hundreds of millions. What exactly are you suggesting I volunteer to do, school repairs?

Mitch Adis June 6, 2022 at 8:47 pm

What going to happen to the first property City Hall bought to build this school? Tax payers paid $1,000,000 for the property only to find out we couldn’t use it! Who made that mistake? Were there any repercussions?

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