In 2008, the town of Stratford received a $50,000 grant from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit policy advocacy organization, to conduct a feasibility assessment of transit-centered development projects in the downtown.
The primary goals of the assessment were to identify opportunities to revitalize the downtown district and attract new development to enhance the town’s tax base, while simultaneously preserving the character of the community.
Ten years later, Stratford is starting with a construction project designed to expand the town’s housing stock and retail community. The first step in this endeavor is the demolition of a former elementary school that will open 3.6 acres of land to new development.
Stratford’s Center School opened in 1970 on Sutton Avenue and at its peak housed about 255 students in kindergarten through 6th grade. In 2005, the school was decommissioned as an elementary school and was later used for the district’s basketball games and other programs.
In July 2015, Stratford received a $1.2 million grant from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to remediate hazardous building materials at the school and at the adjacent board of education headquarters. These properties were identified as part of a future Transit-Oriented Development Overlay District. In May 2016, the school board approved giving the town ownership of the former school building, noting that the transfer would save Stratford $200,000 a year it had been paying in operating costs.
“The town council recently accepted a grant from the state to abate this building and remove the building structure,” said Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick, referring to a Jan. 8 resolution accepting $1.25 million from Connecticut’s Brownfield Grant Funds. That allowed the town to request proposals from developers “to open up this space for a mixed-use development.”
Hoydick said that the removal of the school building would be a financial boon for Stratford. “This is a municipal property, so there are no taxes on it,” she said. “We were employing people here a long time ago, but at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Amy Knorr, Stratford’s supervisor of economic development, said that the town was accepting bids from demolition companies to handle the building’s removal. “That has to go through a process that takes some time, but hopefully it could start in the spring or summer,” she said.
Knorr said that the board of education building, which was originally built as the Center School in 1885 and was rebuilt in 1929 following a fire, was being considered for repurposing for either residential or mixed-use development. However, no formal timeline has been considered for that proposal.
Hoydick said that it would be up to the developer who successfully bids on the Center School project to determine whether rental units or condominiums would constitute the residential aspect of any mixed-used property. However, she expressed a personal preference for any development to include smaller and independent retail operations rather than big-box retailing, and she was adamant against using the newly freed space to only accommodate parking for the neighboring Main Street and Metro-North Railroad station.
“We don’t want a six-story parking garage, but we want to have parking to accommodate the development and open it to the public for the center area,” she said.
Keeping people walking is part of the focus of the downtown development. On Jan. 9, Stratford received a $450,000 “Complete Streets” grant from the state to complete the technical design for improvements along a portion of Main Street and Barnum Avenue, south of East Broadway and around the corner from the Center School building. The project is intended to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist safety in the downtown area.