DANBURY — Officials from the City of Danbury announced Monday that they plan to purchase a 240,000-square-foot office building to house a career academy for middle and high school students, a move that will also address overcrowding in the city’s schools.
“This particular piece of property was exactly what we were looking for, in my opinion,” said Mayor Dean Esposito. “It is a campus for the future.”
The 30-acre property, located at 40 Apple Ridge Road, will include space for about 1,100 high school students and 360 middle school students. High school students will occupy the south wing of the building, containing a cafeteria on the first floor and classroom spaces on the second, third and fourth floors, including multiple science labs and a greenhouse. Middleschoolers will fill the north wing of the building, with a gymnasium on the first floor and classrooms on the second and third floors.
The building also has enough space to house the Board of Education offices for the school district, which will save money currently budgeted for leasing space, Esposito said.
In April 2021, Danbury approved a $99 million bond for the school, but the estimated cost of buying the property and building the academy has since grown to $144.5 million.
Esposito said that the city did not yet have a final purchase price for the building, nor did they have exact cost estimates for converting the space into the career academy. Director of Public Works Antonio Iadarola said he hoped to have those estimates in the next few days.
The city will need to approve another bond for the project, Esposito said, adding that the Council will hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the purchase.
Esposito and Iadarola said that the original goal to open by fall of 2024 still stands. Iadarola said that the building already contained many needed items — for example, up-to-date appliances for the commercial kitchen — which could represent cost savings. However, he said, supply chain issues could cause difficulties in adhering to the original timeline.
The state legislature had previously agreed to pay 80 percent of the career academy’s construction costs. State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, told CT Examiner that she was confident the state would keep its commitment to support the project.
“The goal of this program hasn’t changed. The need for this program hasn’t changed,” she said, adding that the new building will benefit all students in Danbury.
Kevin Walston, superintendent of schools in Danbury, said that the purpose of the academy was to provide students with the opportunity to learn skills that would be useful to future employers.
“Once upon a time, a K-12 education was sufficient to get a job that enabled you to support a family and buy a house. Our current education system doesn’t always do this, just because of how fast technology is moving and how the demand for jobs has changed tremendously over the last few decades,” said Walston.
He said that the academy will have six career tracks and that the new property will house the STEM and business programs.
Walston told CT Examiner that he hoped the additional space in the career academy would lower the number of students in the high school to just under 3,000 students, and that it would also alleviate some of the pressure on the district’s middle schools.
State Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, told CT Examiner that the purchase was “a step in the right direction.” He said the city needed to move quickly to deal with the overcrowding in the schools, exacerbated by the large number of New Yorkers moving to Danbury.
The city had originally planned to purchase space for the academy in the Summit, a 1.2 million-square-foot office building, but Esposito said the purchase of the new building was a better decision.
“It’s a much better investment for the people of this [city]. We’ll own the property, we’ll own the building, and we’ll be able to continue to provide space that we may need in the future,” said Esposito.
The timing was also positive for the building’s current lessee, the Cartus Corporation.
Trevor Macomber, director of global marketing and communications for the company, said the organization had largely shifted to working from home at the start of the pandemic — an arrangement that he said was going to become permanent. He said the company was looking for another space where, rather than having employees come into work every day, people would only come in on an as-needed basis.
Macomber said that the sale provided a “convenient opportunity” for Danbury. In a statement, the company called the purchase “a win-win for all parties.”