Soon-to-be-vacant schools in Wooster Square and City Point could host cleaning materials, security camera feeds, science kits and other storage next year, under a money-saving plan to shift employees out of leased buildings.
Darrell Hill, the school’s part-time finance director, proposed those relocations at the Board of Education’s Finance & Operations Committee meeting Monday at 54 Meadow St.
Under his plan, district-wide functions currently working out of rented space would be moved into central office and the two alternative schools whose programs will be shut down next year. If approved by the school board next week, the district could save at least half a million dollars on rent next year.
New Haven leases three properties, but Hill recommends shifting down to just one.
The district currently pays rent for over 100,000 square feet of space at:
- 540-580 Ella T. Grasso Blvd., a 87,000-square-foot complex with $913,000 rent annually that houses two alternative education programs: the Adult & Continuing Education Center and Riverside Education Academy. (ASPIRE, a middle school operated by Area Cooperative Education Services, will be transferring students to other locations next school year.)
- 654 Ferry St., a 45,000-square-foot space with $459,000 rent annually that plays headquarters for the facilities and security teams, along with a fleet of vehicles, tradesmen, math and reading supervisors and Head Start registrars.
- 80 Hamilton St., a 22,000-square-foot space with $169,000 rent annually that contains a warehouse for storage and science kits, plus offices for truancy.
After votes to close and consolidate schools, the district has about 70,000 square feet of open space at:
- 54 Meadow St., the Central Office headquarters where floors could be reorganized to free up about 15,000 square feet of space.
- 103 Hallock Ave., the 30,000-square-foot home to New Horizons with 50 parking spaces.
- 21 Wooster Pl., the 25,000-square-foot home to New Light with only on-street parking.
Hill said that moving getting out of leases and moving everyone to new buildings had been a “challenge.” The need for huge warehouse spaces, loading docks for delivery vans and reserved parking for employees led him to find only one suitable arrangement.
Under his plan, reading and math would return to Central Office, where other administrators work. Head Start registration would happen at Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Childhood School on Goffe Street, but also keep space in Central Office, too.
Hill added that New Light on Wooster Place would accept warehoused boxes and truancy officers, while New Horizons on Hallock Avenue would take everything else, including security guards, facilities managers, tradesmen, a fleet of cars and storage for science kits.
“Now, the storage, workspace and space for science kits on Hallock Avenue is tight,” Hill said. “Those activities have a higher parking need, while Wooster will be used for smaller warehousing activities.”
The one lease Hill recommended keeping was for the Boulevard. The landlord agreed to drop the annual rent by at least $1 per square foot, and the state will reimburse the rent anyway for Adult Ed, he said. It seemed like a logical spot to build out the “opportunity school” for 140 students that Superintendent Carol Birks has promised will replace the three alternative high schools, he said.
Hill added that New Horizons is large enough to accommodate the new “opportunity school,” but he said that the building itself had many security issues, including no line of sight in some places and multiple entrances. It’s also a little small, he said, fitting closer to 90 students.
According to Hill, once all the leases are broken, the savings next fiscal year will total at least $561,000; the following year, the savings could top $830,000.
“These are all just rent savings,” Hill added. “We have not tried to count ever dollar and say, ‘Well, what’s the decrease in custodial or maintenance going to be? What’s the change in electricity?’ A lot of that is going to be transferred from one location to another. There will be a drop, but we want to be conservative in our estimates so that we have a better likelihood of hitting the numbers we share with you, as opposed to explaining why we didn’t.”
After hearing Hill’s proposal, Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, a board member, said she likes the gist of the plan. But she pointed out she’s long had concerns about sending high schoolers to Ella T. Grasso Boulevard.
“With the homeless shelter next door” — Columbus House — “and some drug rehab over there” — the APT Foundation, plus Connecticut VA’s Errera Community Care Center and Cornell Scott Hill Health Center’s Grant Street Partnership in the vicinity — “that environment gives me pause,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been any incidents, but that concerns me.”
Will Clark, the chief operating officer, said that the consolidation of schools would allow them to beef up staffing with security guards and a school resource officer. But Jackson-McArthur said more staff would help, but she was still worried about “so much unpredictability” next door.
Hill said that the Boulevard location didn’t need to be permanent, but it looked like the best place for next school year.
“With the options that we have available, it’s not as though we have another location that would accommodate our needs,” he said. “As the opportunity program takes hold, our goal is to ultimately have them in the regular classroom, so the program would be smaller and smaller. That would provide us with additional opportunities to relocate to a different location. But at the current size, we believe this is the best.”
The tight space meant that other big ideas for the school’s development were largely overlooked.
Some Wooster Square neighbors have asked Birks not to sell the buildings to condo developers, as some city officials initially suggested. In an email last week, Anstress Farwell proposed moving the Edward Zigler Head Start Center from Olive Street into New Light’s space, where kids could enjoy “calming, beautiful views of Wooster Square Park and a safe play space on [the building’s] east side,” she wrote.
But the committee didn’t take up that suggestion.
Jamell Cotto, the finance committee’s vice-chair, said he wanted the board to have other options. He asked for Hill to put together an alternative, so that the board members could vote on their preferred arrangement at their Monday meeting at Celentano School.