Waterford hearing on agreement to sell Cohanzie School changed to Aug. 11

Waterford - The company that wants to develop the Cohanzie School into an apartment complex plans to restore the original 1923 section of the school should it succeed in purchasing the property.

Centerplan Companies is slated to present its proposal at 5 p.m. Aug. 11 at Town Hall, when a public hearing and possible vote on an agreement to sell the property to the firm for $1 million is scheduled.

The Board of Selectmen originally set the date of public hearing for Aug. 12, but changed the date because Aug. 12 is the date of primary elections, according to First Selectman Daniel Steward. He said he thought it was likely the board would vote on the agreement, or option to sell, the night of the public hearing.

Centerplan, a Middletown-based construction and consulting firm, intends to build a market-rate apartment complex with at least 150 units, according to Steward.

He said the hearing would include presentation of a conceptual plan for the development proposed at the intersection of Dayton and Kenyon Road.

“We’re planning to preserve and restore the historic kernel of Cohanzie School,” said Centerplan CEO Robert Landino, referring to the original section of the school that is on the State Register of Historic Places. He declined to discuss whether the firm might reuse other sections of the building as well.

He said he “knows enough about construction” to know that the building can be restored, but said the firm has yet to conduct “detailed due diligence on the building itself.”

The firm decided to focus on restoring the building after learning from news reports that local residents valued the building’s history. He also said that the building would “help the developer interact with the community in a way that new construction would not.”

“It became clear that it became an interesting cog in our wheel,” he said.

Planning Director Dennis Goderre wrote in an email that Centerplan’s proposed reuse of the 1923 building “would include some residential in a portion of the space.  In other areas it might include community space open to the Cohanzie neighborhood.”

Cohanzie School was left vacant in 2008 as part of a building project approved at a 2002 referendum that consolidated the town’s five elementary schools into three because of declining enrollment and increased operational costs.

Last year, the Representative Town Meeting approved funds for the cleanup and demolition of the school, which has been eyed as a site for redevelopment for a number of years despite objections from some who attended the former elementary school.

A group of residents started the “Save Cohanzie School” effort last year to save the school from the wrecking ball. In 2012, Town Clerk Robert Nye, who is also the municipal historian, succeeded in getting the original 1923 section of the school on the state register.

Nye said of Centerplan’s proposal to reuse the historic building, “If it happens, I’d be very pleased.”

He said that at the time he applied to put the building on the state register, saving the building looked unlikely.

Because the building is listed, the town is eligible to apply for matching funds from the state to make repairs to the building, according to Nye. He noted that the roofs of the building need to be replaced. He said that the developer would not be eligible for the state funding and that the town would have to seek it out.
Goderre wrote that “no commitments have been made to reuse the building,” but that the town hoped a state grant to clean up the site could help make that happen.

The town discovered earlier this year that the cost to clean up the Cohanzie property, which is a “brownfield” site, were nearly double what a previous prospective developer had projected.

The town should know by September whether it will receive an additional $525,000 state grant to cover costs of remediation of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination, according to Goderre. PCBs are toxic and use of them was banned in 1979, according to the EPA.

Landino said that Centerplan has presented the town with a narrative and conceptual plan and that the firm will hire a design team if it contracts with the town.  He said one development that would be similar to what Centerplan has proposed for the Cohanzie property is the College & Crown development the firm is working on in New Haven. The Centerplan website describes the development as “New Haven’s newest desirable luxury apartment development.”

Landino said that his firm has experience with historic restoration, specifically mentioning a mansion that the firm is restoring in New Britain and the firm’s ongoing redevelopment and construction of service plazas throughout the state.


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