The developers of a plan to convert the existing buildings and a portion of the land at the former IBM office campus in Somers into a private high school with dormitories are working on additional presentations for town officials to be delivered this fall.
That’s what officials were told at an Aug. 8 town board work session where about 1 1/2 hours were devoted to discussing the project. In addition to the Somers Town Board and members of the public, members of other town boards and committees were there, including the planning board, architectural review board, environment committee, open space committee and more.
The conceptual plan for the boarding school was initially presented to Somers about a year ago after about a year of being discussed and developed by the parties involved.
Mark P. Weingarten, a partner in the White Plains-based law firm DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP, told the meeting attendees, “Our primary purpose is now that we’ve petitioned for zoning changes and made our environmental submission we need feedback from all of the boards here in the town so that we can finish the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process and you can go on with your work at your boards. From our standpoint, we are still trying to expedite this as fast as possible for a potential school opening of 2021, which requires all the approvals to be in place by early next year, 2020, so we can do the construction necessary to open the school.”
He said the applicant understands that no official action can be taken by the town until all environmental reviews have been completed.
Weingarten was speaking on behalf of property owner 294 Route 100 LLC and its agent Sebastian Capital, the landlord, which will be leasing the campus to the school on a long-term basis, together with Evergreen Ridge LLC, which is the temporary name for the school. The address of the former IBM site is 294 Route 100. The applicants are seeking to subdivide the property. The school would use approximately 345 acres of the 723-acre site. They are seeking text changes in the office business (OB-100) zoning for the site.
When asked to explain the law firm’s relationship to the project, Weingarten said that they operate in the typical capacity as counsel in the real estate process, the financing process and in seeking all of the approvals. He also said in this instance the firm is acting and registered as lobbyists for the landlord because laws now require such registration when seeking changes in regulations or legislation from some levels of government.
Weingarten said Tyton Partners, an investment banking and strategy consulting firm in Stamford, is the investment advisor on the project.
“They are the people that are out financing this operation on behalf of the school, so the school has the adequate resources to do all the work that needs to be done — the construction, the hiring,” he said. “This is a very expensive operation putting this together and Tyton is the financial adviser and partner that’s putting that money together for the school.”
In addition to converting the five existing buildings designed by famed architect I. M. Pei into classrooms, dorms and related spaces, the proposal calls for an athletic field house to be built along with playing fields, tennis courts and track facilities. There also would be hiking and jogging paths and gardens. The IBM buildings have approximately 1.2 million square feet of space. The school is planning to eventually have 1,800 students with about 20% of them coming from overseas. The 3,200 parking spaces now on the site would be cut back to between 1,000 and 1,100 spaces. The unused asphalt would be removed, reducing impervious surfaces on the property by about 19%.
Erik Kaeyer of Mount Kisco-based KG+D Architects showed a computer-generated video that gave a virtual tour of the property, including inside and outside views of classrooms, labs, spaces for socializing and dorms.
Bonnie Von Ohlsen of the New York City-based planning and design consulting firm Kimley-Horn, told the meeting, “There will be three phases of construction where the first year will be grades nine and 10 only. The next year we’ll add 11 and then, by the third year, will be all four grades, nine, 10, 11, 12.”
She said the site has a county health department permit for its water supply and for phase one of the new project they propose using existing on-site water wells.
“Additional water supply is being investigated for phases two and three,” she said.
It’s estimated that 750 students would attend the school in phase one, 1,300 in phase two and the full enrollment of 1,800 in phase three.
Von Ohlsen said the traffic study done by the applicant showed the boarding school would result in about an 80% reduction from the traffic that existed when IBM was using the site.
Tim DiScipio of Stamford-based Evergreen Ridge said his organization has put together a highly qualified team of nine educational advisors.
“We’ll have the core traditional requirements in the curriculum that we’re all very familiar with in high schools,” he said. “We’ll have advance placement courses, AP, but what highly differentiates our program … is that we’re going to take an elective track and we’re going to align numerous elective course elements to the strong emerging growth fields and industries. We’ve identified about 38 of them and we’ve done some research and the top 25-ranked private schools in the U.S. don’t offer the comprehensive elective track that we’re going to introduce.”
He said a formal name for the school had not yet been chosen and that the name would have to be approved by New York state. He promised town officials he would have a very detailed briefing about the educational aspects of the proposal for them in the future.
Syrette Dym, director of planning for Somers, said her staff and consultants have reviewed the environmental documents submitted so far, made comments and asked for more information and are awaiting additional submissions.
A few individuals commented about the need for a sidewalk from the IBM site to the downtown area and suggested that it would be a good thing for the developer to contribute to the community. Weingarten said they had been talking to the state regarding the possibility of the state helping to fund the cost of such a project, but couldn’t make any promises.