Updated, 2:39 p.m., 4:22 p.m. Thursday, 1:21 p.m. Friday: More information.
NORWALK, Conn. — The drive to build a new South Norwalk school has passed another milestone, with an application submitted to the state, officials said Tuesday.
“This is the single largest investment made by the city in the South Norwalk area, ever,” Mayor Harry Rilling said during a news conference held at Columbus Magnet School.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
The City has been working since 2014 to give South Norwalk children their own school and end the “District 99” practice of busing them to other Norwalk neighborhoods, and with the recent agreement to buy nearly 12 acres at 1 Meadow St. for $14 million, “we’re kind of seeing that light at the end of the tunnel,” Rilling said. “We’re ready to start moving forward, and you should see some progress in the relatively near future.”
Closing on the purchase of the land owned by Hatch & Bailey should happen by the end of July, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said. As for the nursery that’s on the property, “there’s negotiation behind the scenes between the two parties, and they have reached a settlement and as part of our agreement on the contract.”
He continued, “I don’t have all the details but generally speaking, it’s resolved. But we will continue to work with them to to if they need help to find a location, but we are providing them with additional time to resolve some of the location issues and concerns.”
The State once installed a depth gauge at the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Meadow Street, in feet, to show how deep the water was during flooding. It was removed after residents complained that they would be unable to sell their houses if the state advertised it was a flood zone.
Lo said that in his 40 years in Norwalk, he has not been aware of flooding at that intersection.
“Generally speaking, there’s a low spot there,” Lo said. Architects will be hired within two weeks and sub-consultants will participate in the design process.
“Since you mentioned to me, I will research on history at the intersections in terms of drainage, to see whether things have been improved previously already or whether it’s still continues to be an issue,” Lo said.
In December 1992, a severe nor’easter flooded much of South Norwalk and the southern end of East Norwalk were flooded by 5-8 feet of water. Veterans Park was completely submerged.
On Thursday, Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews issued this statement:
“The City of Norwalk continues to make stormwater management a top priority across the City. Our Department of Public Works is aware of this issue and is working closely with our Building and Facilities Department to develop a storm water management plan for the surrounding area of the new South Norwalk School. Part of the City’s facilities feasibility plan for the South Norwalk School is to issue an RFP for an architectural firm to hire a civil engineer. The RFP will be issued in approximately two weeks and the civil engineer will be responsible for designing a storm water management plan that will include a retention/detention system. This is a key step toward determining next steps to reduce stormwater discharge in the South Norwalk School neighborhood.”
On Friday, she issued a clarification:
“Alan Lo who is responsible for the development of the new South Norwalk School and is in communications with the Department of Public Works to obtain a clear understanding of the drainage concerns in the neighborhood around the new proposed school site. The City is scheduled to issue a RFP for architectural design services for the new South Norwalk School in approximately two weeks which will have an on-site storm drainage management component.”
“One of the things that we wanted to make sure was that people understand that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Rilling said Tuesday. “The area needs to be graded and prepared. But more importantly, the area around the school is going to be made safe with proper streetscapes, walking to school, people being able to use the sidewalks, people being able to drive into the area, feeling that is safe to drive that area. And it’s going to look a lot different than it does now. So we’ve allocated $1.5 million to the streetscape to help make that happen.”
“What a wonderful day this is for the city of Norwalk. I think the one thing that stands out to me the most is this will truly create a sense of community for everybody,” Common Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) said.
She agreed with Rilling that “there’s a lot of work to do and a lot of resources that will have to go into making this a safe community. We know what South Norwalk has endured over the years, but it’s time for a change. We are now at that point where we need to make a significant change… that’s something that the Mayor has committed to making sure that that happens.”
“This is going to be a state-of-the-art school, it’s going to be the finest school in Norwalk once it’s done, and then we can move on to some other things. But this is going to be done right,” Rilling said.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) noted that with the increased rate of State reimbursement for school construction, Connecticut taxpayers will foot about $40 million of the school’s $76 million budget, instead of the $14 million that was expected before this year’s State budget passed.
“One of the main reasons why this is so important is that Norwalk is a growing urban school district in the state,” Duff said. “We see all across the state that our urban school districts are growing, and we need to make sure we have the capacity to meet those needs. We have not built a new school in this in this community in over 50 years. And right now, we’re embarking on a new Norwalk High School. We’re embarking on a new Cranbury school. We’re embarking on a new South Norwalk school. And we’re finishing up finally, Jefferson renovate-as-new for Jefferson Elementary School. These are things that should have happened a long time ago, but are now happening today.”