The West Hartford Town Council met in executive session Tuesday night to discuss plans for a real estate transaction.
By Ronni Newton
After returning from executive session Tuesday night, the West Hartford Town Council voted to authorize Town Manager Matt Hart to execute a contract to purchase the former St. Brigid School campus for $3 million, with plans to likely transform the property into a new community and cultural center and for possible other public uses as well.
The vote was six in favor of the purchase, with Republicans Mary Fay and Chris Williams voting against it. Democrat Beth Kerrigan abstained.
The 8.5 acre parcel in the Elmwood section of West Hartford, which currently includes the roughly 46,000 square foot school, built in 1960-1961, is directly adjacent to Beachland Park – just one of the reasons the town notes in making the property a desirable acquisition. The property was most recently appraised at just over $7 million, according to town records.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to acquire an important property located in the heart of Elmwood immediately adjacent to one of our premier public parks,” Mayor Shari Cantor said in a statement. “There are many exciting things that we could do with this property to serve residents of all ages for decades to come.”
Cantor thanked the Saint Gianna Parish for their willingness to negotiate a direct sale with the town, and for their support of the surrounding community.
The estimated investment in the project is $6 million. The town has set aside $3 million in the proposed FY2022 Capital Improvement Program to purchase the property, and another $3 million in the FY2023 CIP for “a combination of demolition and design expenses, to be determined following a comprehensive analysis of the existing structure,” the budget documents state.
The $3 million purchase price includes a $50,000 deposit, and the town will have 90 days to complete its remaining due diligence. The plans will be sent to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) for review, which could take at least several weeks, Hart said following Executive Session, after which a final decision regarding the purchase will be made by a vote of the Council.
In voting for the resolution, the Council also authorized the expenditure of $60,000 to conduct the due diligence, which includes zoning, environmental, and physical inspections, a property survey, and a title search.
Hart said following the executive session that the closing would take place 150 days after the execution of the contract.
Because of the site’s strategic location adjacent to Beachland Park, the town has been interested in the site for several years, and began actively pursuing the purchase after learning about the school’s planned closure. The town has traditionally run summer programs that utilize Beachland Park as well as Elmwood Community Center, which is across South Quaker Lane.
“The existing Elmwood Community Center does not meet desired standards for programming purposes, particularly for youth programming,” Hart said in a statement. “The St. Brigid location offers the possibility of a new Elmwood campus combining a number of uses, allowing us to repurpose the existing Community Center for redevelopment and grand list growth.”
While the Town Council did not specifically mention the Faxon Library Branch also relocating to the St. Brigid property if the plans move forward, the CIP proposed by Hart as part of the March 11 budget presentation notes a $6 million expense over the next two years “to fund the acquisition of a strategic property in Elmwood to serve as the site of a new community/cultural center and library branch. The project would provide us with the opportunity to consolidate most of our Elmwood-based assets in one location, and to repurpose some of our existing assets for re-development and grand list growth.”
Hart confirmed to We-Ha.com that “we are going to look at the potential for this to serve as the library branch as well.”
The CIP also notes the constraints of vehicular access to the current Elmwood Community Center – which currently has its driveway on Burgoyne Street, off South Quaker Lane – as well as topography constraints.
Prior to the redevelopment of the St. Brigid priority, the town will plan to conduct an extensive community engagement process with key stakeholders and partners.
The property at 100 Mayflower St., owned by the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Saint Gianna Parish, has been vacant since the Pre-K through grade 8 St. Brigid St. Augustine Partnership School, operated by the Saint Gianna Parish, closed at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. The plans to close were announced last year, with the following stated in a March 12, 2020 news release: “Demographic shifts resulting in low enrollment over the last several years have created financial shortfalls that make it impossible for the parish to continue its financial support of the school.”
As for the future of the Elmwood Community Center property, the CIP states, “The ECC location has potential and value for redevelopment purposes.”
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As a graduate of the first St. Brigid Class to go from 1st to 8th Grade there, I am saddened and disappointed that the Archdiocese was unable to keep the school open. However, I applaud the foresight of the Town Council and Town Manage to purchase this property. With some thought, planning, and yes some funding, combined with an enhanced Beachland Park, this will make Elmwood an even better place to live. Great Decision Town Council!