$18-million Soto School scheduled to open August 2015

Finalized plans for the Victoria Soto School were presented to the public on July 10, at a community meeting organized by Third District Councilwoman Stephanie Philips at the Birdseye Center. About 40 people attended the meeting, which also touched on topics ranging from street flooding in the South End to proposals for a small waterpark along Johnson Field.

The focal point of the meeting was a presentation given by Ryszard Szczypek of Tai Soo Kim Partners, the architectural firm responsible for the design of the Soto School, currently under construction on the property of Stratford Academy on Birdseye Street, and which will replace Honeyspot House serving grades K-2.

 

Timing

Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, the firm contracted for construction, has begun erecting the new school’s foundations. Steelwork will begin on July 21, according to Maureen Funke, a representative from Whiting-Turner. The current construction schedule says that the building will be completed on May 23, 2015, and will open for the beginning of the school year in August 2015.

The attendees reacted positively to the architectural plans. Philips invited town officials also to the meeting, but only Town Engineer John Casey attended.

The school will be located on the east side of Johnson House, in what was recently a parking lot. New parking spaces will be created between the two schools, south of Johnson House, and in the bus loop. Some residents expressed concern over possible parking problems, but Philips assured them that the construction will produce more parking spaces than were previously available at the two schools combined.

 

Costs

The town’s original budget for the construction side of the project was $13.8 million. An additional $2 million was allocated for engineering costs. The Town Council received construction bids in November 2013: Whiting-Turner’s bid, at $15.7 million, was the lowest.

According to Philips, the Town Council and mayor “worked with the architects to see if they could make any savings” in the project. These savings eventually amounted to about $200,000. The Town Council eventually approved an additional $2.5 million for the Soto School by a vote of 8-0, bringing the total budget to around $18 million. Of this figure, about $9 million will come from the town’s budget, with the State of Connecticut reimbursing the town for the other $9 million.

 

Physical plant

With 10 classrooms and four kindergarten rooms, the school will have a capacity of 290 students, about 20 more than Honeyspot House, and a total of 36,000 square feet, according to Mr. Szczypek.

Enrollment in Stratford Schools is rising, Philips noted, attributing this to the 1111 Stratford and Avalon Bay development projects.

Two playgrounds will be built with the Soto School: one located in the courtyard of the horseshoe-shaped building, and one located in front. The playground behind Johnson House will be relocated to make room for a new parking area, but the tennis courts will not be affected.

Szczypek’s architectural renderings of the school show an airy building, full of light, with large windows opening onto the central courtyard and an environmentally friendly design. “The engineering is far more advanced than previous schools,” said Philips. “The energy use will be significantly less than for other schools in Stratford.”

 

Security

The architects for the new school, named for the Stratford native and resident who was a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, have taken numerous steps to protect students’ safety, said Szczypek. The school’s main administrative area will have a full view of the main entrance. Both the outer and inner sets of doors in the main entrance will be locked, and can be opened only by controls located in the administrative offices. According to Szczypek, the main vestibule will contain laminated glass, which “can be cracked but not broken through.”

All exterior doors will lock automatically; electronic signals will alert the school administration when a door is propped open. The courtyard, bordered by the school on three sides, will have a six-foot fence on its open southern side.

In response to questions from attendees as to whether the new school would be an emergency refuge for the South End, Szczypek said that the building would not meet strict federal requirements for that designation. Philips noted that the school would be fully air-conditioned and could be used as a cooling or heating center in times of extreme weather.

Some local business owners present at the meeting asked if there were opportunities for local companies to work on the school. Funke said that most subcontracts had already been completed, but that Whiting-Turner had hired Stratford companies to work on electrical components. Ms Philips noted that the planned renovation of Stratford High School, which she described as a “bigger project” than the Soto School, might provide more opportunities for local businesses.

 

What about Honeyspot?

The fate of Honeyspot House remains uncertain. “Nobody knows yet” what will become of Honeyspot House, said Philips. “No decision has been made.”

Philips proposed that the school be demolished and turned into a community pool with affordable housing nearby, and this proposal received a positive reception from the attendees. The Board of Education wants to use Honeyspot as a preschool, she said.

Other parties want to demolish it entirely and expand Johnson Field, while still others want to build affordable housing on the site.

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