PHOTOS: Long Awaited Groundbreaking for “New” New Lebanon School Marks a New Beginning

Members of the Greenwich delegation, including State Reps Fred Camillo and Livvy Floren, along with State Senator Scott Frantz, fought tenaciously for a new school to replace the outmoded 1950s New Lebanon School. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Members of the Greenwich delegation, including State Reps Fred Camillo and Livvy Floren, and State Senator Scott Frantz, fought tenaciously for a new school to replace the outmoded 1950s New Lebanon School. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea; BOE chair and New Leb building committee member Peter Bernstein; State Rep Mike Bocchino and State Senator Scott Frantz. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea; BOE chair and New Leb building committee member Peter Bernstein; State Rep Mike Bocchino and State Senator Scott Frantz. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

On Thursday morning the entire New Lebanon School community gathered to break ground on the future site of a long overdue new school.

The existing New Lebanon School, constructed in the 1950s, features a small gymnasium and a miniature cafeteria that results in lunch running from 10:0am until 1:00pm. The common rooms are vastly undersized, which impacts programming in the building.

Longtime staff recall a time the school’s enrollment was much lower. In fact, 20 years ago the enrollment was about 180 students. Today the enrollment is 265.

Overjoyed students at the New Lebanon School groundbreaking, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

As the school became crowded, pre-school was taken away and not replaced.

More recently, the district opted to house the entire kindergarten in the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center, a windowless space across the street on Delavan Ave, a move that brought a modicum of relief.

The Lebanon “annex” allowed an additional homeroom at the main building and enabled  OT and PT to be moved off the auditorium stage.

Since June 2015, the New Lebanon building committee worked in earnest to plan a replacement of the crowded, too-small school, which is designated by the state to be racially imbalanced.

A definition of “racial imbalance” is calculated on a school’s population having 25% more or less than the town’s overall minority population.

Dr. Jill Gildea, the Greenwich Schools Superintendent. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Dr. Jill Gildea, the Greenwich Schools Superintendent. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

New Lebanon School

Rendering of new school, clad in zinc and stone. The building committee, chaired by Steve Walko, consists of members from the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Representative Town Meeting (Public Works and Education delegates), the Department of Public Works, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, and the Planning and Zoning Commission. Expertise included a construction manager, a civil engineer, architects, attorneys, and notably, veteran building committee member Dean Goss who has served on over a dozen building committees over the decades. The project architect is TSKP Studio and the construction manager is Gilbane.

Rendering of front entrance to the future New Lebanon School. The school’s campus is comprised of land deeded to the Town from the Teagle family in Dec. 1956. The deed limits its use to educational and playground purposes. Of the entire 7.5 acres gifted, New Lebanon school only uses 2.7 acres for the current building, parking and playground. New Lebanon School is the only school in town without its own playing field.

BOE Chair Bernstein read aloud School's First Day of School. Dec 7, 2017

BOE Chair Bernstein read aloud School’s First Day of School. Dec 7, 2017

BOE Chair Peter Bernstein, who serves on the New Lebanon building committee, brought along a copy of School’s First Day of School,  by Adam Rex, about a brand new school.

Bernstein said the first meeting of the building committee was held on June 18, 2015, which was 903 days earlier, and more than 100 ago.

Indeed, the ground breaking was a long time in the making and the building committee had its work cut out.

Judy Goss with her father Dean Goss who has served on over a dozen school building committees, most recently the New Lebanon School building committee. Dec 7, 2017

Judy Goss with her father Dean Goss who has served on over a dozen school building committees, most recently the New Lebanon School building committee. Dec 7, 2017

Building committee member Dean Goss, a veteran of 14 building committees, said there had been a gap since he last served on a building committee.

“The amount of paperwork has grown tremendously,” he remarked. “It has to do with increased bureaucracy in Hartford.”

For two years, Goss and the committee worked their way through a maze of disagreements and set backs, starting with where to place the building.

Many wanted to build the school on the William Street ball field, referred to as “the village green” by those who opposed it. For a time this was referred to as “Option B.”

Others wanted a rebuilt school placed on the existing footprint, which would have necessitated busing children to other schools or housing them in modulars on site or at Western Middle School during construction.

Ultimately everyone agreed to locate the new school over the ravine behind the existing school. That will necessitate removal of about 172 trees, though they will be replaced. (Most will be planted at New Lebanon School, and the balance will be planted on other district locations).

Steve Walko, Mike Bocchino and Scott Frantz at the new Lebanon School ground breaking, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Steve Walko, Mike Bocchino and Scott Frantz at the new Lebanon School ground breaking, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Principal Barbara Riccio

Principal Barbara Riccio, who is in her 7th year at New Lebanon School, was previously a special education teacher at North Street School, an assistant principal at Parkway, and interim principal at Hamilton Avenue School. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Principal Barbara Riccio, now in her 7th year leading the school, said students will benefit from watching the construction from the existing school.

“There will be a viewing deck, and the construction manager, who happens to be a woman, is looking forward to doing Q&A sessions with children,” she said, adding that the children will take a photo of the work site every day to chronicle its progress.

“They’ll also photograph and learn about all the equipment and machinery,” she said.

Riccio been a consistent presence and advocate for the project, while key jobs at the BOE administration turned over including facilities director and superintendent.

“I’m just grateful these children will get the building they deserve,” she said on Thursday. “This will give them the opportunity to really shine.”

Overjoyed students at the New Lebanon School groundbreaking, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Overjoyed students at the New Lebanon School groundbreaking, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

The new school will have seats for children outside the catchment area. The idea is to “magnet in” students to balance the backgrounds of the students within the building.

The approval of the town’s diversity plan by the CT Board of Education made the project eligible for grants with up to an 80% reimbursement.

Ironically, the school already has a magnet program with its IB component.

Unfortunately, the school has been challenged to accommodate magnet students for two reasons. First, there was, until two years ago, no transportation was provided. Second, the lack of space has made it impossible to accommodate additional students.

In June 2015, the New Lebanon School gymnasium was packed with supporters of “Option B,” which would have located the new school on the William Street ball field. Credit: Leslie Yager

The Byram Neighborhood Neighborhood Center, where New Lebanon School's kindergarten is housed.

Windowless rear of The Byram Neighborhood Neighborhood Center, where New Lebanon School’s kindergarten is housed due to overcrowding. Photo: Leslie Yager

BANC

The Byram Neighborhood Neighborhood Center, where New Lebanon School’s kindergarten is housed due to overcrowding. Photo: Leslie Yager

While Thursday was a joyful day, state funding for the school was uncertain for quite some time.

A Dec. 29 memo to Connecticut legislators from Secretary of Policy and Management (OPM) Benjamin Barnes, recommended against state funding. Barnes suggested that Greenwich could afford to pay for its own intradistrict magnet school.

State Senator Scott Frantz, a member of the Greenwich delegation, who persevered for years in fighting for funding for the school, alluded to similar bumps in the road.

Frantz said the process was fraught with “shenanigans.” He said final negotiations with the state weren’t completed until about a week ago, but that 80% funding for the project is finally confirmed.

He said on the state’s part, it was the right thing to do, both morally and legally.

“At the end of the day it is a mandate, what they are asking us to do,” Frantz said.

First Selectman Peter Tesei described New Lebanon School is the heart of Byram. Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

First Selectman Peter Tesei described New Lebanon School has been and will continue to be the heart of Byram, “A true neighborhood school.” Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Glenn Petersen looks up toward I95 from the bottom of the ravine where trees are proposed to be removed. Dec. 7, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

Glenn Petersen looks up toward I95 from the bottom of the ravine where about 172 trees will be removed. Dec. 7, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

view from I95 of ravine

View from the chain link fence by I95 down to the ravine, with the existing New Lebanon School in distance. The pink ribbons on trees indicate the perimeter of the area to have trees removed. Dec 7, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

Frantz introduced “rock star” Mike Bocchino, the State Rep representing Byram who previously served as New Leb PTA president, who described some of the challenges the school teachers, staff and volunteers rose to, given that kindergarten was relocated to BANC.

“Today is a historic day for the town of Greenwich, considering what transpires in Hartford and what little we receive back from them,” Bocchino said, going on to thank the Greenwich delegation and the entire community for their perseverance.

“To go over to BANC every day – including special ed teachers, ESL teachers and reading Champions volunteers – and then have to come back, is truly a testament,” Bocchino said. “You kept our community together. You kept our kids together. Thank you so much for that.”

Last three from right, Clare Kilgallen, Tony Turner (BET) and Barbara O'Neill (BOE) at the ground breaking of the new New Lebanon School, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Last three from right, Clare Kilgallen, Tony Turner (BET) and Barbara O’Neill (BOE) at the ground breaking of the new New Lebanon School, Dec 7, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

See also:

PHOTOS: New Lebanon Theater Club to Perform Disney’s “The Aristocats”

Residents Heartbroken over Removal of 200 Trees at New Lebanon

Malloy’s Budget Chief Wants to Nix State Funding for New Leb School Construction

Hundreds Turn out in Byram to Support Building New Lebanon School on William Street Ball Field (June 2015)

New Leb Community: If Scheme C Gets Rejected, Don’t Disperse Our Children

High Levels of Arsenic Found at New Leb Ball Field; Building Committee Nominees Approved

New Leb Building Committee Begins to Take Shape

Board of Selectmen’s Field Trip to New Leb Ravine: Visualizing a New School (May 2015)

Sections of Ball Field Adjacent to New Lebanon School Fenced Off

Parents Ask for Alternatives to New Lebanon-BANC Split Campus for 2014-15

New Lebanon’s BANC Satellite Facility: A Peek at the Sausage-Making Process

New Lebanon Principal on Racial Balance, Crowding, Out-of-State Cars


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Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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