STAMFORD - Mayor David Martin’s administration is considering converting one of the city’s underused office parks into a school.
Martin said Thursday that he and his staff have taken several elected officials on tours of 800 Long Ridge Road, once a headquarters for Xerox Corp.
The idea, still in its infant stages, is that a pair of aging elementary-school buildings could be closed and those student populations consolidated on Long Ridge Road, Martin said. Another possibility is closing an elementary and a middle school and sending those students to a K-8 building on the site, he said.
“There’s a less than 50 percent chance of likelihood at this point, but it’s enough of an opportunity that we are taking it seriously,” Martin said of the idea. “There are complications all over the place. It’s one of the most complicated things we’ve gotten involved in.”
The 265,000-square-foot building is owned by developer Building and Land Technology and under lease to GE Capital’s Energy Financial Services division, he said. The length of the lease is unclear, but the building is unoccupied, Martin said.
GE moved the last of its 300 employees from Long Ridge Road to offices in Norwalk and New York City late last year.
“The building is not new, but they completely redid it in the last eight to 10 years, including all the mechanicals,” Martin said. “It looks like a new building, and the mechanicals are probably better than anything we’ve got in our system, with the exception of Strawberry Hill School,” which opened two years ago.
In the last few weeks, Martin said he showed the property to members of the Board of Finance and Board of Representatives.
“A lot of work has to go into exploring this opportunity, and it’s not worth us trying if we think people don’t like the idea,” Martin said. “So far no one has told us ‘no.’”
The next step will be to run it by community leaders, he said.
City and school officials have been working to determine whether the idea is viable, Superintendent Earl Kim said.
“We can’t engage the community until financing is in order and we know whether it’s a do-able project,” Kim said. “We’re doing this because of the opportunity that vacant properties in the city provide.”
In Stamford — and other U.S. cities — it’s become increasingly difficult to find tenants for office parks. The city’s latest Master Plan recommends repurposing the half-dozen corporate campuses on High Ridge and Long Ridge roads.
For the school district, the need is clear, Kim said.
The latest enrollment projections indicate the district will be short 25 elementary-school classrooms in 10 years, he said. Overcrowding is a continuing problem barely offset by the opening of Strawberry Hill School in 2016. Children in lower grades attend the inter-district magnet school now, and it is slowly being expanded to include eighth-graders by 2023.
A building study showed $150,000 million in deferred maintenance — work that includes repairing roofs and boilers, upgrading lighting and plumbing, replacing windows and furnaces, Kim said.
“There’s no manna coming down from the state to help us,” Kim said, a reference to Connecticut’s ongoing budget crisis. “We need a solution that brings the buildings up to where they need to be. It’s going to require some pretty creative ideas to catch up.”
If the office-park idea progresses, officials will have to examine whether it would work financially, which school buildings make sense to close based on condition, which student populations could be moved with the least disruption, and many other factors, all while weighing the concerns of residents.
Deputy Superintendent Tamu Lucero said the work now is to figure out what is possible. After that, she said, “we can run a scenario, then start to engage people. They might come up with better ideas.”
If the former Xerox site doesn’t work, maybe another office park will, Kim said.
Cindy Grafstein, Martin’s special assistant for education, said it’s been her job to reach out to city representatives and finance board members.
“This is so big that it would be difficult to begin without the support of the elected boards,” she said, but “if it were to work out … it would be a flagship building.”
Whatever happens, the conversation is important, said Michael Pollard, Martin’s chief of staff.
“Regardless of the outcome of this exercise, we have to address the outdated buildings and the need for significant maintenance,” Pollard said. “We’ll still have to figure out how to fix those problems.”
Converting office space to classrooms “is not a foreign concept in Connecticut,” Pollard said, citing a building other GE divisions left in Fairfield to move to Boston. It’s now used by Sacred Heart University.
There’s a lot more homework to do, officials said.
“We need more concrete information before we can take this to any board for consideration,” Kim said.
“It should work, in theory,” the mayor said. “In practice, we don’t know.”