Danbury Career Academy demo phase completed; construction of classrooms begins: ‘falling into place’

October 18, 2023

DANBURY — Outfitted in hard hats and neon orange construction vests, the city’s mayor and top engineer looked out the third floor windows of what will be Danbury’s new high school, their eyes fixed on an office building down the hill on Apple Ridge Road.

Mayor Dean Esposito mentions to city Engineer Antonio Iadarola about securing the right of first refusal on the sale of the downhill property, should the company move to a new location as it expects to do in as soon as the next few years.

“Something we definitely need in the future for Danbury is a fieldhouse,” Esposito said during a tour of the gutted, sun-fed 266,000-square-foot former Cartus Corp. headquarters that workers are transforming into a middle school and high school for 1,400 students. “Danbury is one of the only cities that doesn’t have a pool and doesn’t have an indoor track. Obviously, we are talking the future, but we’ve got the land here. We’ve got the ability to do it.”

That the mayor is already thinking about acquiring more school-related space 22 months before the city’s career academy is scheduled to open for the 2025-26 school year shows the scope of the enrollment growth, which has outpaced the city’s efforts to catch up for a decade.

“We are always keeping an eye out now for when we have to expand,” Iadarola said. “We really want a bigger footprint in educational space on the west end, because this area is just booming.”

With the demolition of the interior complete, and construction workers putting in the lines on the concrete for the framing that will become classrooms, labs and offices, Iadarola said it was easy to see the city’s vision coming into reality for the 24-acre west side campus and the rebranding of the high school known as the Academies of Danbury.

“The views here are spectacular,” Iadarola said, speaking of the green ridge of hills that rim the Danbury Municipal Airport, and blue autumn sky above them. “These planes coming right over the horizon, and the sunset is outrageous.”

In addition to a three-story middle school for 360 students and a four-story high school that will house four industry-focused career academies for 1,040 students, the city’s $164 million west side campus includes a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium and offices for the Board of Education.

“This gives you a feel for how big it is,” Iadarola said, looking through the second floor windows of the middle school to the gym construction site on the west part of the campus, where workers prepared the foundation. “This is a huge undertaking.”

The completion of the demolition phase and the start of the construction phase is part of a larger $208 million spending plan approved by voters in 2022 to build more classrooms across the city, including $27 million for a 16-classroom early childhood education center at location to be determined.

The city’s decision to buy a hilltop corporate headquarters that it would own and control follows the breakdown of an earlier deal to fit the city’s newest west side schools into the sprawling office park near the New York border known as The Summit.

“It would have been a real challenge to work within the complex we were going into over at The Summit,” Iadarola said. “The site layout area was so small we wouldn’t even have been able to stage (construction materials and equipment) there. We’ve got 24 acres here. We were on a postage stamp at The Summit, you know?”

The opening of the west side campus, which was delayed for one year because it took months to remove a restriction from part of the property that would have limited the city’s options, is on track for August 2025.

“Everything is falling into place,” Iadarola said.

Written By Rob Ryser of the Danbury NewsTimes