(Thank you to Walker Nadeau for taping Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.)
At Monday night’s special meeting of the Board of Selectmen, a request for MI status to build a new New Lebanon School on its existing site received the selectmen’s unanimous blessing. Soup to nuts, the whole meeting was over, including the vote, in a half hour.
At the outset, First Selectman Peter Tesei summarized a timeline in which various “schemes” for a new school had been proposed for Municipal Improvement (MI) status and rejected over several months.
“Most in attendance can attest to the time frame in which this issues has been percolating,” Mr. Tesei said of the months of meetings, hearings and votes among the Board of Selectmen and Board of Eduction. Back in November 2014 the Board of Education held a public hearing. Around that time residents began circulating petitions and publishing letters to the editor.
“The matter came before the BET and RTM, through the course of the budget process,” Tesei added.
Back on April 30, the Board of Selectmen discussed MI for Scheme C, but they declined to vote, noting that additional soil sampling hung in the balance, and citing lack of familiarity with the ravine location.
On May 8, the selectmen, along with architects, Board of Education members, media and interested residents took a walking tour of the ravine between the existing New Lebanon School and I-95.
On May 14 the Board of Selectmen discussed scheme C. On May 28 they voted unanimously against it.
On June 9 the Board of Education held another public hearing, this one for input on Scheme D versus B — building a new school on the William Street field (B) versus building on the existing site (D). While many spoke in favor of re-using the existing site, a well-organized group of residents turned out to support Scheme B. Building on the existing site (D) will mean relocating New Leb students either to modular classrooms nearby or farming them out to under-enrolled schools in Greenwich.
On June 19 the Board of Selectmen voted to deny MI for Scheme B.
“Tonight, June 29, we are now presented with Scheme D,” Tesei said, adding that the agenda did not include considering a MI request for modular classrooms at Western Middle School, about a mile from New Lebanon, during construction, but, he said, “We stand ready, whether it be next week, next month or next September.”
Mr. Tesei said that under the Freedom of Information Act the Board of Selectmen can go into an executive session to discuss issues of employee matters, strategy and negotiations, and security matters. “So it is permissible,” he said, debunking what he said had been suggestions by certain people to the contrary.
Presenting a synopsis of Scheme D, architect, Michael Tribe said he had recently learned from Land Surveyor, hydrographic and coastal mapping consultant Mike Finkbeiner, about the presence of a stream that starts from the southern end of the ravine, crosses under a culvert, under both I-95 and James Street, and ends up in the Byram River.
What was mapped previously as a wetland actually contains a stream, he noted. “That’s new information we have to be aware of.”
Tribe said Scheme D incorporates input from all interested parties. “We’ve moved the gym down in front of the field so there is direct access from the field to the gymnasium,” he said. He said that the existing ball field could be enhanced under Scheme D, and that the shape of the new building would be a “C.”
“We’re not affecting the field. We’re improving access to the site, and minimizing disturbance to the natural features and the wooded area, provided enough parking and created a building that has shapes that allows for outdoor activities.” – Architect, Michael Tribe on Scheme D
“My initial reaction is extremely favorable,” Tesei said. “I applaud you for your patience with us… I’m favorable to D.”
“We have had several communications sent to us on what people are referring to as E,” Tesei said, adding that “E” referred to using the area of the old Byram School as an alternate site. However, First Selectman Tesei pointed out that location is protected public space.
Specifically, back in 1979, the Planning & Zoning commission, through the Board of Selectmen at the time, approved a municipal improvement for the dedication of open space around the Byram School.
“At its meeting June 19, 1979 there was a dedication of 12.52 acres of Byram School site as parkland,” Tesei said, adding that in according to statute 7-31(n), taking of land previously intended as a park or for other recreational or open space purposes would have a consequence. “You’d have to replace that elsewhere in the community,” he said.
Also, he reminded those in attendance that New Lebanon School has a deed restriction for its use for educational purposes.
Representatives from Greenwich emergency services representing Fire, EMS and Police, respectively, each testified that they had no issues with re-using the existing school site, “Scheme D.”
Safety concerns had come up repeatedly during Board of Education public hearings. Specifically, advocates of Scheme B questioned the wisdom of locating an elementary school on a site with just one access road. Many suggested that in a hypothetical intruder situation, children would be trapped by I-95 if they had to evacuate. Many testified that when the existing New Leb site was selected in the 1950s, there was no anticipation of intruder scenarios like the one at Sandy Hook School in December 2012.
“We are comfortable from an EMS point of view that we have easy access and egress,” said EMS director Charlee Tufts.
Peter Cyzinski, Greenwich Fire Chief, agreed. In his remarks he talked about the Life Safety Code. “Things that you don’t even think of are incorporated into school facilities,” he said.
“There are escape windows in all student classrooms,” he said, for example. “Panic hardware is incorporated into all school facilities. Monitored alarm systems for early detection are incorporated into all school facilities. Even the doors that swing out into corridors so they don’t provide an obstruction to students at they’re leaving the building.”
“You don’t have young students on second floors or in basement areas because they have difficulty traversing the areas,” Cyzinski said, adding that each Greenwich schools is required to do five fire drills a year including a lockdown component in addition to regular fire inspections.
Deputy police Chief Mark Marino and Sergeant Mark Zucarella testified that the Greenwich Police Dept. does not see any disadvantages or concerns with re-using the current location of New Lebanon School. They said the police work closely with the Board of Education for security plans, and will continue to do so.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in favor of Municipal Improvement for Scheme D.
“Congratulations. You are now onto the Planning and Zoning commission,” Mr. Tesei said, gesturing first in the direction of Board of Ed chair Barbara O’Neill and Superintendent McKersie, then motioning to Katie Deluca, Director of Planning & Zoning. “She can certainly pave the way for the next phase,” he said.
After the meeting, Oscar Rodriguez, who had been one of a large, passionate group of Byram residents in favor of Scheme B, reflected on the decision in favor of Scheme D.
“Through the process with the Board of Education, we mobilized and found our voice,” Rodriguez said. “Now that they voted on Scheme D, we will continue to attend the meetings. We’re not going to go away,” he said. “This will grow. It’s good. It’s mobilized us.”