NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools plans to open a family center in the Human Services building at 1 Park St., just down the street from City Hall, using federal COVID-19 relief funds.
You may recall, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella sought $5.9 million this year to renovate the former Briggs High School into a welcome center. The City said no and this plan to rent space fills that need, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said Wednesday.
“We’re convinced that this can serve as a really ideal spot for this district Family Center,” Hamilton said to the Board of Education Finance Committee. “…This is a major new initiative for the district and one that we think is very much in line with the goals and objectives that are laid out in this new strategic operating plan.”
The “welcome center” will be inside the “family center,” because the facility will be “really a whole lot more,” Hamilton said.
“It’s really serving all of our families, and all of the needs that our families have,” he said. It will be a “one-stop shop” for registration, accessing specialized learning services, getting information and guidance on transportation issues,
“So it becomes really a one-stop shop for central registration and becomes a one-stop shop for specialized learning, and accessing specialized learning services and services for multilingual learners, accessing information and guidance and help on transportation issues, “centralizing our school choice options, which right now are very decentralized.”
There will be a technology depo, student records, and space for the volunteer groups that help NPS, he said. “So we think this is really very, very much needed. And this will greatly enhance the school district’s efforts to serve our families.”
The Finance Committee approved the plan so it can move to the full Board for a vote, though details aren’t quite worked out.
Hamilton said the “base rent will be based on a fee of $17 per square foot,” which would include all expenses: utilities, repairs, maintenance, etc.
But, “We’re just still, sort of, nailing down exactly the amount of square footage that the district will be taking, because there are some existing tenants in the property that are using a portion of the property,” he said. “So it’s likely that we will have an initial square footage thing here, which they then will likely increase when that other space becomes available.”
It looks like the district will rent 10,733 square feet initially and that might increase to 14,836 square feet, “So the rental rate within start out at about $15,200 a month and ended up at just over $21,000 a month,” he said. NPS will also reimburse the landlord, Human Services Council Inc., for capital improvements such as carpeting, removing a wall and ADA (American Disabilities Act) improvements to the bathrooms.
Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten asked if NPS might acquire the building.
It’s appraised at $3.5 million.
Hamilton said NPS can’t buy it, the City has to, under the law. “But it’s something that, you know, we would certainly want to put on as a possibility.”
NPS will see how it goes this year, he said. “If it works as successfully as we think it’s going to and as we expect it’s going to, then, you know, looking at a future purchase certainly is something that I think the district would be interested in.”
“In light of any capital improvements that we made to the site, and the fact that it’s really well located in a central, inaccessible place, you know, hopefully that would be taken into consideration,” Hosten said.
Norwalk Board of Education member Diana Carpio called the timing perfect because hopefully everyone is coming back to school in-person after the pandemic, “and I know that a lot of families, especially new ones, even current families, too, have lots of questions, how things are going to work. “They’re going to need help. So having it centralized during this time, is perfect timing.”
Hosten said, “I have a good feeling about it.”