DERBY — The city formally welcomed a new dormitory for international students attending local private schools at a grand opening ceremony Wednesday morning.
Called Connecticut International Academy, the dormitory is located at 101 Marshall Lane, the home of the former Marshall Lane Manor nursing home, which closed in 2015.
It currently houses 15 students from China, with capacity for 110.
Dozens of dignitaries and employees gathered in front of the building Wednesday to watch as David Guerrera, one of the business’ founders, cut a ribbon to symbolically open the dorm.
He was joined by co-founder Feng Chen, Mayor Richard Dziekan, State Reps. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Joseph Polletta, R-Watertown, and Andrew Baklik, Dziekan’s chief of staff.
The academy is a subsidiary of Apex International Education Partners, which bought the Marshall Lane property for $450,000 from the Simonetti family of Shelton.
More than 300 Chinese students attend schools locally through AIEP, but the vast majority live with host families. They attend a variety of private schools in the area.
Guerrera said he and Chen had long wanted to open a dorm to house students, but had trouble finding a suitable location.
“We always had the dream of opening up a dormitory,” he said. “It took quite some time to find the perfect place, and Marshall Lane Manor was the place.”
He thanked the Simonetti family and Derby Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Ted Estwan, among others.
“You understood what our true intentions were and if it wasn’t without you we wouldn’t be here today,” he said to Estwan.
Guerrera also introduced his father Mario, who works as property manager, his mother, Lisa, who is in charge of marketing, and his fiancee, Megan Laporta.
“We’re getting married in two and a half weeks, so we got this done in the meantime,” Guerrera said.
Afterward, the academy offered those attending the ceremony some Chinese culture.
Yihan Chen, a native of Wenzhou, China, played songs on the pipa, a four-stringed plucked instrument.
And four dancers from Hartford-based Asian Performing Arts — Stephanie Sum, Julie Lai, Barbara Chan, and Katherine Cheah — performed traditional dances using umbrellas, handkerchiefs, and ribbon fans.
Guerrera said the students currently at the dorm are between 15 and 17 years old.
They attend Lauralton Hall, Fairfield Prep, Notre Dame-Fairfield, St. Joseph’s, Sacred Heart Academy, and Easton Country Day schools.
The company hired a Chinese chef to cook hot meals for the students daily, as well as a tutor.
Most of the students hail from the Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou areas of China, he said.
The total renovation of the building cost roughly $2 million, and began in April.
About 10 to 12 employees will be at the dormitory daily, with AIEP’s total U.S. work force of 32 gathering there for weekly meetings.
When the property’s use as a dormitory was first proposed, it was not received well by neighbors.
But Guerrera said a lot of them have since come around to the concept.
“The same neighbors are coming back and realizing that it’s completely different than what they originally expected,” he said.
Chen, a native of China who met Guerrera while the two were studying at Fairfield University, agreed.
“Sometimes people don’t like change,” Chen said. “I think after learning what we are doing people are more open to it.”
That attitude was exemplified by Dziekan, who less than a year ago signed onto a lawsuit challenging the property’s use as a dorm and on Wednesday held the ribbon at the grand opening.
“It’s a win-win for the city,” Dziekan said. “We’re able to get more tax money coming in and we’ve got some good neighbors in here and hopefully they’re going to be contributing to the neighborhood.”