A public information session will be held on May 2 in the West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium regarding UConn’s West Hartford campus.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford will hold a public meeting on May 2 to discuss future use of UConn’s West Hartford campus and whether or not the town should purchase it for $12.6 million – the price offered by Weiming Education Group and approved March 30 by University of Connecticut Board of Trustees.
Outreach will be conducted and residents in the neighboring area will be specifically invited to attend the meeting, which is open to all members of the public. Weiming will also be given notice about the meeting, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said.
Council member Leon Davidoff said it is important to note that the May 2 meeting will be a public discussion, not a zoning hearing. He said that it’s an opportunity for the public to give input in order to decide whether or not West Hartford should take action to purchase the property.
An important component will be to gain an understanding of the financing that would be involved, Davidoff said, although he noted that “no decision has been made with respect to purchasing.” Van Winkle said that he will be prepared to discuss how the town would fund the purchase of the property if that is the ultimate decision.
“I don’t think we really have had extensive discussions about use of the property,” Council member Chris Barnes said at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting. He is hopeful that a crowd of people, including those from the neighborhood, will use the forum as the opportunity for a good discussion.
“We want a big crowd because it’s a big deal,” Council member Ben Wenograd said. Discussions have taken place in during meetings of the Community Planning and Physical Services Committee, which is open to the public, Wenograd said, but the decision was made by that committee to have a larger scale meeting. He said that there are still many decisions to make about purchasing the property and its use.
Van Winkle said that he believes there has been plenty of discussion about the property, and cautioned Council members that even if representatives from Weiming attend the May 2 meeting, they may not have all of the answers, including the exact number of students who may ultimately attend the school, because they have not even had the opportunity to complete the due diligence process on the property. Van Winkle said that in discussions Weiming had estimated a student body of approximately 500, which is about the size of one of the town’s elementary schools, he said.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore will be in attendance May 2 and will discuss a possible arrangement for Weiming students to complete some of their coursework at Conard and Hall high schools.
“It is all at this point a discussion. There isn’t a document, a plan or anything like that,” Van Winkle said about about having the students attend West Hartford’s public schools.
Van Winkle said that an agreement with the Board of Education would have to be negotiated. Moore said previously that if the students attend Conard and Hall, they will still be treated as international students for the purposes of college admission.
Weiming Education Group is a Chinese organization, but it is planned that students attending the international school in West Hartford will come from countries throughout the world in addition to China.
Council member Chris Williams said that Weiming’s desire to use West Hartford Public Schools is “unprecedented,” and he want to be certain that Weiming is prepared to respond to questions that the town and residents may have. “We need to be sure it benefits each and every one of our students first,” he said.
Any future arrangement for students to attend West Hartford Public Schools will be completely separate from an exchange program that has already been negotiated with Weiming for 30 Chinese high school students to study at Conard and Hall for the 2016-2017 academic year, and for West Hartford students to go to China in the summer of 2017.
Van Winkle was authorized by the Town Council in January to negotiate with UConn for the sale of the property, and discussions, as well as environmental and other inspections have been ongoing. West Hartford has the first right to the property, but did not make an offer to purchase the property by March 15, 2016, as required in the contract, which allowed UConn to offer it for sale to another party.
The town has been aware of Weiming Education Group’s interest in the property as the site for a campus of an international high school. UConn’s Board of Trustees, with the Town of West Hartford’s knowledge, approved plans on March 30 to sell the property to Weiming.
Under state law, West Hartford has 45 days to notify UConn that it wishes to purchase the property under the same terms as those offered by Weiming, and 60 days to complete the purchase. Some question remains as to whether the 45 days began on March 30, since that was the date of a letter of intent, not the actual purchase and sale agreement. The town’s corporation counsel has requested a response from UConn for clarification of the date.
Weiming also has 90 days to perform due diligence surveys of the property, and if for any reason declines to purchase it after that time, the town has the right to purchase the property under terms to be negotiated.
If the purchase by Weiming takes place, Van Winkle said he anticipates that zoning requests will be filed later this year. In its agreement with UConn, Weiming must have all of its plans approved by Dec. 31, 2016, or pay UConn $15,000 for each 30-day extension.
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