Plan Calls for Conversion of IBM Somers Campus to STEM School

John Jordan | September 2018

The now vacant IBM campus in Somers includes five buildings totaling approximately 1.2 million square feet of office space.

SOMERS—A plan was presented to the Somers Town Board on Thursday evening that if approved would involve the adaptive reuse of the 1.2-million-square-foot former and now vacant IBM campus here into a STEM high school geared at attracting top students from across the country.

Evergreen Ridge, LLC of Stamford, CT, headed by principal Tim DiScipio, presented its initial plans to the Somers officials that call for significant interior renovations to the five-building complex to convert it into a school for grades 9-12 that would focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as the arts. Evergreen officials say the firm hopes to open the school for its first class in the fall of 2020.

Evergreen Ridge officials, along with Roxana Girand, president and CEO of Sebastian Capital Inc. of New York City, the asset manager for the 723-former IBM campus, and Sean Cahill of Avison Young, a broker in the deal, confirmed that negotiations are ongoing with the building owner for Evergreen to lease the entire 1.2-million-square-foot complex pending all necessary approvals for the STEM high school project to move forward.

If the STEM high school project secures all approvals and lease negotiations are finalized, the lease transaction and the subsequent adaptive reuse project would be the largest of their kind in memory in Westchester County. The largest lease and eventual subsequent adaptive reuse of a property in Westchester was the sale/leaseback of the Reader’s Digest headquarters property in Chappaqua in late 2004 to Connecticut-based Greenfield Partners and Summit Development. Eventually, Reader’s Digest moved out of the complex, that has since been converted to a mixed-use project featuring office, residential and retail uses.

Former IBM campus in Somers

According to multiple published reports, the former IBM campus at 294 Route 100, as well as the former PepsiCo campus in Somers, are owned by Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helu. In 2016, IBM sold its Somers complex for nearly $32 million and the PepsiCo property traded earlier that year for $87 million. Evergreen Ridge representatives told the Town Board that the owner of the property would also be an investor in the STEM high school project as well.

Evergreen Ridge could file an application for a necessary zone change for the property to allow the educational use sometime in October, which would begin the municipal approval process that would also entail site plan approval. Other approvals from other agencies, including the New York State Education Department, would be required for the project to move forward to construction.

While there are a number of highly successful and well-known private schools in Westchester County, the Somers school would be the first of its kind to provide a STEM or STEAM centric curriculum.

While no firm projects costs were released, DiScipio, the former CEO of international K-12 private school provider Weiming Education Group USA, explained that the project would involve approximately 140 acres surrounding the ring road of the five-interconnected buildings on the campus. Vivek Kamath, a partner and managing director of Tyton Partners of Stamford, CT, an equity partner that will be providing financing for the venture, characterized the cost of the renovations and additions planned at the campus to be “significant,” but could not provide a cost estimate.

The for-profit school would offer a curriculum that aligns with emerging career fields in biotech, bioscience, biomedical engineering and physics, artificial intelligence, computer science, information technology, robotics, aerospace, nano-science and manufacturing technology.

DiScipio said that the exteriors of the buildings would not be disturbed, but the interiors would be renovated to include classroom, laboratory, dormitory and administrative space. He said that because of the large floorplate, the school could potentially offer one of the largest Artificial Intelligence laboratories in the world.

Among the planned additions to the campus would include: a new Arts Center, Athletic Center, dormitories, Head of School Residence, athletic fields for baseball, softball, track, tennis courts and basketball) as well as jogging and hiking trails and gardens.

The facility would include student housing (dormitory space) since the student body would encompass approximately 85% boarding students and 15% day students. Tuition for boarding students would be approximately $49,000 per year, while day students’ tuition would run at approximately $37,000.

He said the student enrollment would be ramped up from a projected 750 by the fall 2020 opening, to 1,300 the following year and to the maximum of between 1,500 to 1,800 students by 2022.

Once operational, the STEM high school will employ approximately 235 workers, including 102 teachers, 23 administrators, and 110 support staff.

“We think this campus aesthetically and the academic program and the modern housing, classroom and eco-system we have put together will make this one of the most important and relevant schools in the world,” DiScipio told Town Board members.

Mark Weingarten, a partner with White Plains, NY law firm Delbello Deonnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr, which is representing Evergreen Ridge in the approval process, said the plan has great potential for the region.

Weingarten, who is a trustee of Cornell University, pointed to the success of the Cornell Tech engineering campus on Roosevelt Island and added, “This whole idea of science and technology is what we need here. This is what is being built, this is what people are looking for, what kids are looking for, this is where the jobs are.”

Somers Town Supervisor Rick Morrissey, who said that although the plan is early in the approval process, “it is a great use for this campus. It is not going to negatively affect our tax base, which took a hit when Pepsi and IBM left. We have other developments coming in and this is good news.”

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth