'Give the neighborhood some breathing room' Zoning board approves purchase of former Catholic school

St. Gabriel School in Milford in 2016.

St. Gabriel School in Milford in 2016.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD—The Planning and Zoning Board has approved the city’s purchase of the former St. Gabriel School on Tudor road. The unanimous vote on the $2.3 million deal came at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The city assessor had valued the building and grounds at nearly $3.2 million in 2019. The 24,000-square-foot, single-story school building was constructed in 1965. The owner is listed as St. Raphael Parish Corp. St. Raphael is the combined parish for St. Ann Church and St. Gabriel Church.

It is the latest step in reducing resident’s concerns about outside development of the 9.09-acre parcel of land in the Devon section of the city. In July 2000 amid public opposition, developer Robert H. Smith Jr. dropped plans for a 175-unit apartment complex on the grounds.

“We want to give some breathing room to a neighborhood that is densely populated,” Milford Mayor Ben Blake said. “One of the visions is to make it available as a recreation area for our youth. I think it is something the Board of Alderman should consider because, for a variety of reasons, it is a strategic purchase for the city.”

The Board of Alderman will consider the agreement to purchase at its meeting set for Feb. 1.

“We’ve had discussions with the Boys and Girls Club to have them play a big part in that space,” Blake said. “We are looking to partner with them, they serve over 600 students in Milford. This will support youth and augment recreational needs.”

While admitting that this isn’t the best year to use lack of gym space as an example because none of the gyms are available due to COVID-19, Blake sees the parcel as an opportunity to alleviate a constant concern for youth basketball and recreational volleyball. The parcel can also be used for outside recreational activities, he said.

The city also could explore using the property as swing space for students attending Pumpkin Delight Elementary School while that building is undergoing renovation.

Blake said the building is in need of some maintenance and repair work.

“There are going to be some long-term repairs and long-term needs for physical structure,” Blake said. “And there are going to be some short-term needs for the physical structure as well as some short-term stabilization work to secure the facility as well.”

St. Gabriel operated from 1965 to 2016 before declining enrollment and financial deficits forced it to close. School officials said the closure was a parish decision, and not one made by the Archdiocese of Hartford. For the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 2015, St. Gabriel School had a $111,709 operating deficit, and declining enrollment was making financial matters even worse, officials said. In its final year, there were 140 students enrolled in pre-K through eighth grade at the school.

Costs to maintain the school had also risen, and declining birth rates within the Archdiocese of Hartford suggested continued declining enrollment. The closure left St. Mary school on Gulf Street as the last of what once had been three Catholic grade schools in the city.

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354