Danbury’s $208million plan to build a careers academy in the west and tackle surging enrollment is up to the voters


DANBURY — A $208 million plan to meet growing enrollment in the city with construction projects that would make Danbury the first place in the state to incorporate a vocational academy model of labor training- work for all high school students will be submitted to voters in a referendum on June 7.

“When you get growth like this, you have to prepare for it, and it will prepare us for the future,” Mayor Dean Esposito said. “It will give us new schools in a new location and a forward-thinking future.”

Esposito is referring to a $208 million loan program that includes a $164 million west side careers academy for upper grades and $44 million in other school infrastructure projects that includes a new building to house a “centralized autonomous pre-K program”.

The June 7 referendum, which requires a majority of Danbury voters to show up at their regular polling stations between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. and vote ‘yes’ to pass, is the latest stage in a race to build enough of class space for the development of the city. student enrollment, which in 2019 jumped a surprising 5.6%.

“Right now it’s pretty obvious that the high school building is overcrowded,” Danbury Schools Superintendent Kevin Walston said of the building’s 3,400 students. “We need space”

The hope is to build a career academy for about 1,040 high school students and 360 middle school students and open it on the first day of school in August 2024, when high school enrollment could climb up to 10% to 3,750 students. .

“It’s a game-changer for us,” Walston said. “If we can provide space on the new site for 1,000 pupils, Danbury Secondary School is suddenly much more manageable of 2,800 pupils.”

City Hall has the same hopes for Danbury’s growing preschool population. At least $27 million of the proposed $208 million would pay for a 16-classroom early childhood education center at Great Plain Elementary School. Adding pre-K would free up space in the city’s elementary schools and save Danbury from expensive leases, city officials said.

The June 7 referendum comes as the city struggles to keep pace with 12,300 district-wide registrations continuing to top the city’s best projections.

The enrollment boom in Danbury is more notable because the general trend is downward enrollment in much of Connecticut, especially outside the cities.

As a result, Danbury rented space and built classrooms as quickly as possible.

For example, work to add seven classrooms to the overcrowded Ellsworth Avenue Primary School was due to be completed by the fall. And it wasn’t until 2018 that the city opened a $53 million addition to Danbury High School with 24 classrooms in what was already the state’s largest high school.

What $208 million buys

If it looks like Danbury has already had a referendum to build a career academy in the west, it has and it hasn’t.

In 2021, an earlier proposal to build a $99 million career academy in the Summit office park was due to go to voters in a referendum, but the city council was concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and used its pandemic powers to authorize the borrowing. package without public vote.

This agreement with the Summit fell through over the winter. The city has since shifted gears, ditching the Summit for a 30-acre hilltop office building overlooking the Danbury Fair shopping center that once housed Cartus Corp. The plan is to buy the property and turn it into two schools for the upper classes.

The state promised to reimburse Danbury for up to 80% of the cost of the $164 million project.

“There is significant space to develop (play)fields on campus,” said Antonio Iadarola, the city’s director and public works engineer. “The west side of the site includes a 13-acre parcel that could be developed into sports facilities.”

City plans call for two additions to the 270,000-square-foot building to house “a gym and a large, specialized classroom for the engineering program,” Iadarola said.

A greenhouse is also proposed on the fourth floor roof, Iadarola added.

The new high school will house two of the six vocational academies that form the core of the city’s vision to provide vocational training to every high school student. The other four vocational academies will be located at Clapboard Ridge Road Secondary School.

The idea is that freshmen will begin their high school experience by taking college and career readiness courses, as well as digital and financial literacy courses. During their first year, ninth-graders will meet with counselors to discuss which of the six career academies interests them. During their second year, students will take courses in their career path, a program that will be complemented by field trips and guest lectures.

It would be Connecticut’s first “wall-to-wall” career academy high school.

“The academic benefits are obvious; we are excited about the academic benefits for our children,” Walston said. “It has re-energized our workforce through this model.”

There would be enough space in the new high school on the west side for the school district to move in with its administrative offices. The new offices would have a separate entrance, meeting rooms and dedicated parking spaces.

Money for other schools

In addition to at least $27 million for a new pre-K building, there’s money in the $208 million bond package for Clapboard Ridge High School accreditation, as well as money to build a science lab, to upgrade the nurse’s office, and to improve the bathrooms there.

The bond package includes money to upgrade the bleachers at the high school stadium and to construct features at Hayestown Elementary School to make the building accessible to everyone. The roof of the King Street schools would also be replaced.

Esposito said his office is working with other city leaders to get the message out to voters to make their voices heard at the polls on Tuesday.

“I’m sure it’s been pretty hyped, but the reality is we’re going to do everything we can to promote it,” Esposito said. “We ask for the support of the community.

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