Stamford mulls closing 4 schools, erecting new K-8 building in Shippan or the Cove

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — A new K-8 school could become a reality in south Stamford if a new master plan comes to fruition.

And that wouldn’t be the only change to Stamford’s roster of school buildings.

The plan also calls for closing four schools — Dolan and Cloonan middle schools, Toquam Magnet Elementary School and KT Murphy Elementary School — while expanding Roxbury and Westover Magnet elementary schools into K-8 facilities, and building a new K-8 Hart Magnet Elementary School at the current location of Cloonan.

Even before the master plan was presented, the district had identified four schools that needed to be torn down and replaced: Westhill High School, Cloonan, Hart, Roxbury and Toquam.

Now more details are emerging on the proposed future of the district. The master plan was formally presented Thursday night by contractor SLAM Collaborative to members of the Board of Education and the Long Term Facilities Committee, which is made up of officials from a variety of boards and committees across the city.

The potential new school in south Stamford, which would either be located in Shippan or the Cove, would have a capacity for 1,050 seats, making it the third largest school in the district, behind Westhill and Stamford high schools.

“We really see this as a big positive step forward to not only reduce the physical footprint of the schools, but also improve utilization and alignment of enrollment,” said Kemp Morhardt, principal at SLAM, referring to the closing of schools and addition of the southern facility.

Finding a location for the south school could be a challenge.

Board of Representatives member Megan Cottrell, who represents the Cove area, said residents are very concerned about a new school being located at Cove Island Park.

Superintendent Tamu Lucero said the park is one of the locations currently being considered by city and school officials since it is city-owned property.

“That would be an ideal location for a south side school when you look at the neighborhoods that the students would be coming from,” she said.

Cottrell said the location is more than just a park, as it serves as a migratory spot for endangered birds.

“People in my neighborhood are extremely passionate about the park,” she said. “They don’t want you to so much as cut down a tree in that park.”

State Rep. David Michel, who represents Shippan, did not speak during the meeting but was strongly opposed to the concept of building at Cove Island Park.

“As the state tries again to add climate change in education, what kind of message would it send to cut a forest down to build a school, adjacent to a marshland? We should be planting trees to help with air quality and flooding,” he said in a written statement.

Other highlights from the plan include expanding Turn of River Middle School by 100 seats, building a new Westhill school and creating a new facility on Lockwood Avenue for a pre-school program.

One eye-opening part of the presentation was when representatives from SLAM said they are assuming a reimbursement rate of 95 percent from the state for a new Westhill.

That is a dramatic increase from the 20 percent rate the state agreed to pay in December. It is unclear how Stamford would get such a high rate, but the city’s state delegation could potentially file for special legislation to secure the extra funding.

The reconstruction of Westhill is estimated to cost $258 million, according to the state’s Department of Administrative Services. The current 50-year-old structure has had a variety of problems, including water coming in from leaky roofs, windows, doorways and the exterior facade.

The presentation also assumed a rate of 80 percent reimbursement for the Lockwood facility, which like Westhill, also secured a 20 percent reimbursement rate late last year, as well as an 80 percent rate for the possible new school in south Stamford.

Board of Education member Andy George was surprised to see the 95 percent number.

Lucero said the figure was a “placeholder” and that officials are working with the state delegation to get more funding.

“That’s the guidance that we’ve been given at this point,” she said.

In an emailed message, schools spokesperson Justin Martin reiterated that the rate is only a placeholder, but that it is “based on our understanding of what is and may be available at the state and federal level.

“As we move forward, gain feedback and perspective and suggestions from our community, this plan will change and be revised,” he wrote.

The full master plan could be realized by 2033, according to the presentation. The next steps, after acquiring funding for Westhill and Lockwood, will be applying for state funding this year for the new south Stamford school, estimated to cost $112 million. That building could be completed by 2027.

The schedule also calls for applying for funding this year to expand Turn of River, a roughly $45 million project, provide interior improvements to Stamford High, for a price tag of $40 million, and extend Roxbury, at a cost of $55 million.

Dolan, Cloonan, Toquam and Murphy would all be closed in 2027, according to the plan.

In all, the city would be on the hook for roughly $540 million over 12 years, if the plan were to be implemented in full and all of the assumptions are met.

“We are talking about a lot of money and it’s not easy to tackle this large type of a project,” Morhardt said.

A series of community group meetings will be scheduled for this month and March to go over the specifics of the plan and get feedback.