New Canaan’s highest-elected official said Wednesday night that he expects the town to make an announcement “imminently” regarding a new home for the Board of Education.
Town and Board of Ed officials for years have studied alternatives to the longstanding practice of New Canaan Public Schools administrators leasing space in a Locust Avenue office building at a cost of about $330,000-plus per year.
Asked during a Town Council meeting this week on whether he had an update regarding the Board of Ed building, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said, “There is nothing to talk about publicly until we have a final final final final deal.”
“We are very close,” Moynihan said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “Probably tomorrow [Thursday].”
Addressing Moynihan, Town Council Chair John Engel said, “We are working on trying to find a permanent home for the Board of Education and you are in private negotiations.”
The exchange came during Moynihan’s general update to the legislative body.
Earlier in the day, the Board of Selectmen during its own regular meeting had gone into executive session “to discuss a potential real estate transaction.” The selectmen did not take any formal votes at the end of the executive session.
In recent months, the town spent thousands of dollars in legal fees on something called the “220 Elm Street transaction,” according to a copy of legal bills that form part of the public packet for selectmen meetings.
The address—220 Elm—refers to a .73-acre parcel of land owned by the town, with a building owned by Bankwell. Two years ago, Moynihan said he’d discussed selling the property. Yet the local bank has since moved into the former Unimen building at Elm and Grove Streets (consolidating its branch operations at its Cherry Street location). Individual items listed in the past legal bills include references to a “meeting at Town Hall” and “buyer and broker negotiations.”
No reference to the real estate transaction was made in the legal bill approved by the selectmen this week.
The 2002-built, brick-and-shingle exterior building at 220 Elm includes 18,970 square feet on two stories. It last was assessed at $6,086,710, tax records show.
Four years ago, a selectmen-appointed committee recommended that the Board of Ed move its offices from the leased space on Locust Avenue to a town-owned facility such as the second floor of Waveny House or the main house at Irwin Park—ideas that have not gained traction. The Board of Ed in 2018 talked about creating its own ad hoc committee to research and make recommendations about a future location for New Canaan Public Schools’ offices.
Update 3:30 p.m. Thursday
The town issued the following press release after the above article appeared:
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan announced that he has signed a Letter of Intent with Bankwell Financial Group (“Bankwell”) to purchase the office building owned by Bankwell located at 220 Elm Street in New Canaan for $6.1 million.
First Selectman Moynihan also stated that, subject to Board of Education approval, the New Canaan School District’s administrative offices and the NCPS Launch and alternative programs currently occupying rental space at 39 Locust Avenue in New Canaan will be relocated to approximately 54% of the 220 Elm Street building by December 2022. The other 46% of the building will be sold to two private investors as condominium office units. The net purchase cost of the space for the School District is about $2 million, which will be bonded over 20 years at currently very low municipal bond interest rates.
Since the 220 Elm Street building was constructed in 2001, the Town of New Canaan has owned the land under the building and the building is currently subject to a 99-year ground lease. The building tenants are also entitled to parking spaces on adjacent Town-owned land and in the adjacent Lumberyard parking lot owned by the Town. As part of the purchase of the building, which is planned to close before December 31st, the ground lease will be ended and the land will become owned by the three condominium owners with undivided ownership interests.
First Selectman Moynihan commented: “The purchase of the 220 Elm Street space for the Board of Education and School District presents a once in a generation opportunity to return to ownership of space for an essential local governmental function. The economics of owning versus renting for the BOE’s needs are compelling, and we are very happy to be able to acquire from Bankwell a property that the bank no longer needs. We thank Bankwell for working with the Town for many months to achieve this mutually beneficial transaction.”
Superintendent Bryan Luizzi commented: “This is our 30th year at 39 Locust Avenue, and while we’ve been very happy with and grateful for our landlord and the service provided by Plaza Realty, we are excited by this opportunity to adapt the space at 220 Elm Street to meet the needs of our school district offices and programs. I want to thank First Selectman Moynihan for his vision and persistence. This plan is a long-term solution that supports the Board of Education as well as the students, staff, and families involved with our Launch and alternative programs. We look forward to continuing our partnership as we work through the next phases of this exciting move.”