About seven hours into Tuesday’s P&Z meeting, which ran from 4:00pm until about midnight, Brunswick School’s pre application for School Use at 270 Lake Ave was discussed with the commission.
The master plan is to move the Early Education Center for Pre K and Kindergarten from King Street to Lake Ave, and in the future, add a nursery with about 50 students. Pre-K and K each enroll about 50 students.
They hope to renovate the interiors of three existing buildings for classrooms.
The exteriors and footprints of the buildings would not be changed.
The nursery use would be primarily for children of Brunswick faculty, but possibly include children of Brunswick parents and the community.
The existing enrollment cap on the campus, an approval that goes with the land, is 450 students.
Initially Brunswick suggested a cap of 250 students, but after conversations with neighbors, attorney for the applicant Chip Haslun said head of School Thomas Philip and the board had felt that 150 would suit their purposes.
Mr. Haslun pointed out that was a tremendous reduction.
“We’re going to still have some access issues and issues with traffic,” Haslun said. “The thought is regarding traffic that we would stagger the three classes.”
He said they would also hire police to manage traffic during pick up and drop off.
Mr. Haslun said the applicant anticipated that all students would be dropped off via Lake Ave.
Commuter faculty would park in back by The Ridgeway and faculty who live on campus would park by the gymnasium off of Lake Ave.
Brunswick said they anticipated creating 16 small faculty residential units in existing buidings.
Mr. Haslun said since Brunswick had not yet entered into a contract to purchase the property, they were seeking a sense of whether the commission would look favorably on the application, and how the neighbors would respond.
Ms Alban said the commission wanted to keep as many of the existing restrictions on the property as possible, including hours of operation, activities in the evenings and on weekends, as well as conditions on busing.
She said both the gymnasium and chapel were “gorgeous and cool,” and suggested a site visit for the commission.
“I’m impressed with Brunswick because an early outreach to the neighbors seems to have been done. That is an important step whenever you’re considering a school use in a residential neighborhood,” she said. “Over and over, the neighbors have complained that there is no outreach and then something changes their quality of life.”
Ms Alban noted that there were numerous active P&Z applications in District 7.
“Every time we talk to RTM members, they say to us, ‘Everything happens in District 7 – so much development.’ District 7 has the schools. It has the hospital,” Alban said. “Their sense is we’re besieged with their applications.”
The applicant explained that there was a built-in cap on enrollment because every division of the school – lower, middle and upper – rises to the next.
“We’re at where we want to be in the upper school. We couldn’t grow our younger divisions because it would negatively impact the other divisions,” said Mr. Philip. “We’re very comfortable committing to the 150, not just as a starter but as a permanent school use.”
Mr. Philip explained that today, many Brunswick pre school students are dropped off on Maple Ave and then shuttled to King Street, (both already in district 7), but with the addition of the Lake Ave campus, those students would instead simply being shuttled to Lake instead of Maple.
Also, he said the school was prepared to stagger drop off and pick up of the 150 students to Lake Ave.
“This is not a must have for us. We’re doing wonderfully. We love our pre-school on King Street. If the property works, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Mr. Philip said. “The only way it would work for us is if we were able to have those younger kids dropped off by their parents and picked up in vehicles.”
“We are committed to having no outside uses on the site. Just Brunswick. There’s nothing on weekends. There’s no summer use,” Mr. Philip added. “We had wonderful conversations with the Field Club, as well as a number of Rock Ridge and Lake Ave neighbors. If it works for everybody, we’re really happy and we’d love it to happen. If it doesn’t, we’re out. We’re not going to push.”
The applicant was asked to look at vehicle counts, noting the site would transition from grades 1-8 with school buses to enrolling younger children and having no school buses.
Mr. Philip said the school had already engaged a traffic study.
Commissioner Nick Macri asked about plans for the large expanses of campus, including tennis courts and athletic fields, and whether Brunswick students might be bused from other campuses to Lake Ave to use those facilities.
Mr. Philip explained there would be no other use of the campus other than pre-K, Kindergarten, nursery, and the 16 faculty housing units.
“The fields are not regulation sized,” he said. “We’ve blessed. We don’t need additional fields.”
Mr. Philip noted Pre k, K and nursery students didn’t have interscholastic games.
“They do potato sack races,” he said. “There aren’t visiting teens coming to that campus.”
Today Brunswick’s pre school is on the ground floor of a building on the west side of King Street. If that were to move to Lake Ave, Brunswick would reshuffle grades 5-6 back to that building from the Tudor Building (accessible via tunnel under King Street).
On Lake, Ave. Mr. Philip said he anticipated the school would remove the existing tennis courts and bus parking lot on the border of the Field Club and returning them to green space.
Ms Alban said she was a fan of green space.
She suggested the applicant be aware of wetlands on the property. She noted that the Town of Greenwich had considered buying the property in order to add fields, but found wetlands challenges and the fact that existing fields were not regulation size.
During public comment, John Dalton, president of the Board of Governors of the Field Club, expressed support for Brunswick School becoming a neighbor.
“As we talked last time, when a former applicant was on, our concerns were noise and traffic, but (Brunswick’s) plans were well thought out and any trepidation that our membership would have were certainly be alleviated,” Mr. Dalton said. “We don’t have any concerns.”
Mr. Macri said there were upwards of a dozen buildings on the site and he’d like to know Brunswick’s plans for all the buildings.
“It would seem to me you have a lot of room for a lot of people on the site. If that’s the big plan, put it on there,” he said.
At the end of the conversation, Mr. Haslun noted there had been educational use on the property since 1900.
“It’s not like we’re introducing a new use,” he said. “At one point Rosemary Hall was in fact a boarding school with teachers living at the facility.”