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Sale of a portion of the old high school building located at 200 Tyler Street has been unanimously approved by the Town Council, clearing the way for a joint public/private partnership with WinnCompanies that will bring 70 units of senior housing and develop a multi-purpose community center in the long-vacant building.
The back section of the building, which including the gymnasium, pool, and auditorium, will be retained by the town for development of the community center. The front portion of the building will be sold to WinnCompanies for a net sale price of $500,000.
The Tyler Street high school has not functioned as a school for 20 years. It was empty but for a few town departments and notably the Sal Tinari Biddy Basketball recreational program, which today hosts more than 400 participants.
Town officials have also said that, in addition to the decay of the building, it cost the town $240,000 per year in expenses and lost tax revenue.
“All that can, and all that should, change after tonight,” Mayor Joe Maturo, Jr., said at the Town Council presentation.
In 2015, Maturo formed a committee to determine the direction of any development of the building.
“[The plan] will transform our iconic old high school into a flagship, age-restricted housing center and a recreational, civic, and artistic hub for our great community,” he said.
Town Attorney Joseph Zullo said that the new community center could cost the town between $7 million and $12 million, which would be paid for through bonding.
Director of Economic Development Sal Brancati presented town plans for the space to house the Arts Commission, the Teen Center, the historical society, and new Town Council chambers.
“This is truly a community center for East Haven,” Brancati said. “We’ve heard loud and clear…that this had to be a community center.”
Maturo believes that the tax benefits and operational savings generated by the project will finance the community section with no effect on East Haven’s mill rate. Town officials cited a potential $2.4 million in revenue over the course of 30 years.
WinnCompanies representative Adam Stein assumed the Town Council that his company was committed to renovating the property quickly.
“We have no other developments that we’re actively pursuing in the state of Connecticut,” Stein said. “This is our focus. This is our priority.”
The housing constructed by Winn will be age restricted to 55 and over and it will contain mixed income housing. Of its 70 total units, 67 will be single-bedroom and 19 will be handicap accessible and designated affordable housing.
“This entire project will be built to National Park Service, Secretary of the Interior standards for historic adaptive reuse,” said David Ginsberg, WinnCompanies’s senior project director.
This means that the building will retain its historic elements such as its blackboards and lockers.
One section of the building will be demolished to facilitate parking. As per the town’s regulations on senior living facilities, there will be just 86 total parking spaces, a number that concerned members of the public speaking at the meeting.
Area residents also voiced their concerns over increased sightings of rats near the property and fears that the facility could take on more affordable housing when Winn’s 30-year term is up.
Brancati said that the limited parking spaces would exist as a permanent roadblock to a future dropping of the age restriction due to zoning regulations.
“If they were to drop the 55-and-over designation after 30 years…they could not do that and comply with zoning,” he said. “Our zoning regulations are 2.5 parking spaces per unit. They would need close to 200 spaces.”
Regulations for 55 and older facilities only require one space per unit.
Though there is no official start date for the project, WinnCompanies representatives suggested they would begin development as soon as possible, with a 15-month timeline set to complete the process in November 2020.
According to Brancati, the town would need to begin its work at the same time as WinnCompanies due to the need to separate utility systems.
Board of Education Chairwoman Michele DeLucia volunteered the use of the school district’s buildings for the Biddy Basketball program for the duration of construction, contingent on the town covering custodial and security services.
Zullo said that funds would be available for the town to enact this plan.