An open letter to the Board of Selectmen and the Town of Greenwich,
As a Greenwich homeowner, taxpayer, and parent (my children attend Julian Curtis School), I believe that the actions of the Board of Selectmen (BoS) regarding its position on the siting of New Lebanon School have not been adequately justified.
By forcing the Board of Education (BoE) and the New Lebanon School Building Committee (NLSBC) to restrict building a new school to a specific area of a larger piece of property through its role in the Municipal Improvement process, the BoS has undermined the democratic process and, perhaps, overstepped its bounds. While I am aware that residents outside of the neighborhood do not generally follow the complex difficulties facing Byram, the actions of the BoS may set a dangerous precedent: that the unsupported opinion of three elected officials can completely undo a project that has been vetted and scrutinized by dozens of experts, taxpayers, boards, and committees. And by doing so, it increasingly appears that the BoS are consciously ignoring the hard and thoughtful work of highly professional experts as well as the decisions of the BoE, the NLSBC, and the community.
The reasons given by the BoS for dismissing the plan viewed as the best option (Option 1) by the architect, BoE, and NLSBC are minimal. First Selectman, Peter Tesei, in his comments at the December 3rd Board of Education Work Session, stressed that he could not in good conscience allow a school to be built in a “hole” too close to the highway and that his concerns had not been adequately addressed. I reviewed the video of the December 3 BoE Work Session, which Mr. Tesei and Mr. Marzullo attended, and heard all of the concerns noted above addressed, some multiple times. It was very clear that the NLSBC was careful to explore all options to ensure that the right choice was made. Building on the current site of the school, which is what was approved during the original MI process, is not ideal and would require a three-story school with little room for playground equipment or cars.
Mr. Tesei also mentioned in his comments that he did not believe that the school would draw students from other parts of town, implying that the scale was too large. I will point out that there are dozens of students in the New Lebanon catchment area attending other public schools in the district, many of whom would return should they have access to an adequate school facility. Whether the school can draw students whose parents are seeking a better education for their children is unrelated to the question of where to site the new school building, and therefore unrelated to this process.
Selectman Marzullo was quoted in a Greenwich Time article (“RTM to Weigh in on New Lebanon Zoning Decision,” Dec. 4, 2015, by Ken Borsuk) saying that “any attempt to circumvent the MI process will inevitably result in delaying construction.” While this may be true, it is also true that the Board of Selectmen have already significantly delayed the process by forcing the Board of Education to build on a small area of the larger property, which has been repeatedly proven to be inadequate and inappropriate for the proposed school building.
Finally, there has been continued discussion about the power of the BoS in this process and whether the Town Charter actually grants the BoE the power to approve or veto the site of a new school building.
I would like to request that the BoS provide clarification, with specificity, regarding their ability to limit the building of the new school to a specific area of the school’s property.
In a memo to the BoS from Town Attorney, John Wayne Fox, he simply states that it is his opinion that the BoS can deny MI status based on the alternate siting of the school. There is no clarification. In reading the charter myself and in learning about the process as it has been followed in the past, it is clear that the Town Attorney’s opinion is just that. An opinion.
I am not a student of law, however, and would suggest that the Town Attorney elaborate on and support the legality of his opinion. This would certainly be helpful to all of the stakeholders in this process and would be an act of good faith much needed in the midst of this contentious debate.
Lucy von Brachel