The end might be near for Cohanzie School.
The state gave until November 16th for a developer to submit plans for the 88-year-old schoolhouse in a last-minute attempt to save the building. No plans came forward, and now the most likely scenario is the building being knocked down and the property sold to a developer looking to install low-impact housing or low-impact offices, or a combination of both.
“Theoretically, there is still time to save it,” Town Historian Bob Nye said, who lobbied the state to put it on the historical register. “A developer could still submit plans. That would end up being a real present, although it appears unlikely.”
Waterford has secured a $457,000 state grant to turn the building into something marketable, which is most likely a vacant lot, according to First Selectman Dan Steward. Waterford Planning Director Tom Wagner said the town’s next step is to bid out the work to remediate the property of environmental hazards like underground oil tanks and asbestos and then see if there is a market to reuse the building.
“We have found it isn’t a real marketable building,” Wagner said. “There just isn’t a lot of interest in it.”
If there is no developer found to reuse the remediated building, it most likely will be demolished, Wagner said. Wagner and Steward had no timetable for when that will happen, although said they would hope to get something done in the spring.
Cohanzie Elementary School was abandoned in 2008 when its students moved into the newly-renovated Quaker Hill Elementary School. Since, it has been unused as the town has tried to sell the property.
Steward and Wagner have said they wanted to turn the building into low-impact housing like senior housing or turn it into a mixed-use development with housing and low-impact offices, like offices for accountants or attorneys. Both men have said they do not want high-traffic retail at the property, as the neighbors of Cohanzie School have been strongly against more high-traffic retail around their homes. In March, to remediate the property and knock down the building.
This summer, to the chagrin of Wagner and Steward, Nye applied for and got the school put on the state’s historical register. Now, if it were to be demolished, the state is mandating that the town prepare a “state-level photographic and narrative documentation of the Cohanzie School” and build an “interpretive exhibit on the historic transition from one-room school house to consolidated district schools in Waterford.”
Wagner said he would have to see if money from the grant could be used to cover the costs of the documentation and the exhibit.