Concern grows over Roxbury-Cloonan merger, part of Stamford schools’ public-private partnership plan

STAMFORD — The Roxbury community is not pleased.

The city’s proposal to makeover five of Stamford’s schools using a public-private partnership stipulates that Roxbury Elementary School move downtown.

Roxbury, which currently sits on a 13-acre property on West Hill Road in the Newfield neighborhood, would combine with Cloonan Middle School to form a new K-8 school at the current Cloonan location downtown on West North Street by 2022, the plan says.

The potential merger, however, is facing a fierce backlash from the Roxbury community.

“Those who feel they’re going to lose their neighborhood school and that their kids are going to be bused further are concerned,” said city Rep. Eric Morson, who represents District 13, which includes Roxbury. “Residents are also worried their property values are going to drop because there’s no more neighborhood school.”

Morson said he’s received feedback from over 50 residents in his district about the plan and many of his constituents want the public-private partnership — just not the part where Roxbury would relocate.

“I, for one, like that, given the mess we’re in, the city is thinking big, bold, out-of-the-box, and creatively to solve a problem quickly and set us up for success going forward,” Morson said.

But the idea to move Roxbury is hugely unpopular in his district, he added.

Roxbury is not the only elementary school tagged for a move south.

Toquam Magnet Elementary School, currently in the Glenbrook-Belltown neighborhood, would move to an unknown location in the South End to help meet the city’s changing demographic and transportation needs.

Like Toquam, the plan to move Roxbury downtown first arose from an evaluation of the city’s changing areas of population growth, said Board of Education President Andy George. While Roxbury does draw from North Stamford, the area surrounding the school, the majority of students come from the South End.

“The population growth is in the South End along the (Interstate) 95 corridor and that would indicate you’d be better off building a location closer to I-95,” George said. “More students are bused from the South End than bused from North Stamford and the local area, so transportation is one of the issues here.”

The concern from Roxbury residents, Morson said, is not only about losing their community school. They also worry about what may happen to the property if the school does indeed leave, he said.

“I would fight to the ends of the earth to make sure there’s no zoning exceptions that would change the character of the neighborhood,” Morson said. At present, the surrounding area is zoned for single-family, one-acre residential zoning, and Morson said he plans to keep it that way.

For those concerned, city Director of Administration Mike Handler said nothing in the plan is yet set in stone.

“(We) have chosen to bring this plan to the community in its early stages so that we may all benefit from their input. ... At this point in time, the critical decision for us all to consider is whether or not we are open to the concept of partnering with a qualified private partner to manage the construction and maintenance of potentially five new public schools,” Handler wrote in an email to the Advocate.

The city will soon release a request for proposals for such a private partner and will have more information to evaluate the viability of the plan once the proposals are in, the school board president said.

Superintendent of Schools Tamu Lucero reiterated the continued uncertainty of the plan.

“No decisions have been made. Those will all be made by the city boards,” she said.; 203-964-2265; @SophieCVaughan1