Board of Finance approves 441-size Mill Hill School funding
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Finance vote on the funding for Mill Hill renovations was always going to be the highlight on Tuesday night.
Over 50 parents attended the Board of Finance meeting. Representative Town Meeting member Michael Herley brought a poster advocating for a 441-school as several parents wore purple stickers in favor of a 504 building.
Members from the Mill Hill Building Committee and hired consultants presented to the finance board on traffic flows, expansion designs and related matters.
Finance board members peppered the building committee with questions on sidewalks, traffic safety, busing and transportation concerns.
Various Board of Education members were also at the meeting to express their support for a 504-sized school, something they have long supported since last year.
Superintendent Toni Jones and Board of Education Chairman Christine Vitale took questions from the board and presented projection estimates for the next eight years.
“Support 504 enrollment,” Jones tweeted before the Board of Finance Tuesday meeting. “Longstanding member reminded the group it’s like Sherman when the BOE advocated for two more classrooms in the annex. Nope....Sure wish they had them now. Impacts all schools when space isn’t there.”
Representative Town Meeting District 10 member Michael Herley, during public comment, was in favor of a 441 school.
“This accomplishes maintaining Mill Hill as a neighborhood school, eliminates all portable classrooms in enrollment...a 504 would put too much pressure on local roads and infrastructure.”
According to a mid-May email from Police Chief Chris Lyddy, the police department has “incomplete data to make conclusive recommendations or render safety decisions” and that a draft traffic study did not “provide critical data to make recommendations.”
Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn said on Wednesday that this was one of the reasons why he was in favor of a 441-school. “I had serious safety concerns for the neighborhood and did not want to exacerbate the problem for the citizens/homeowners.”
Flynn also argued that the Board of Education has no approved redistricting or racial imbalance plan yet and that none of the enrollment projections provided showed Mill Hill being over or near capacity in the next decade.
“The enrollment issue is at Sherman School, which today is operating slightly above 100 percent of its capacity. I would rather we address the situation directly at Sherman — preserving a neighborhood school — than spend fund to add capacity at anther school and most assuredly force a yet undefined redistrictinb by the Board of Education,” Flynn said.
Board of Finance member John Mitola proposed an amendment that would have provided funding — $23.1 million — for a 504 school.
“My original concern months ago was whether the Mill Hill site could fit a 504 school,” Mitola said. “The work has been done and, to me, based on my analysis it’s a $1 million difference between 441 and 501, something we certainly can afford.”
Five hours after the meeting started, Mitola’s amendment failed with the three Democrats and Republican member David Becker in support of the motion that fell short in a 4-5 vote.
Shortly thereafter, the board approved the $22 million bonding resolution for a 441 school in a unanimous vote.
“It was extremely disappointing to have Mill Hill approved as a smaller school than the unanimous bi-partisan Board of Education believed Fairfield Public Schools needed going forward,” Jones said Wednesday morning.
The Board of Selectmen, back in late May, voted 2-1 to approve $22 million in funding for a 441-sized Mill Hill Elementary School.
Selectmen Ed Bateson and Chris Tymniak were in favor of the 441-sized school while First Selectman Mike Tetreau voted against the motion, expressing his support for a 504-sized building.
The Representative Town Meeting is scheduled for a vote on the Mill Hill School June 24.
“The enrollment projections, town development, and families desired proximity to town are putting pressures on the Riverfield, Mill Hill, and Sherman areas of the district,” Jones said. “The growing preschool numbers are impacting space for buildings originally designed for K-5 because there is no more classroom space at the Warde preschool building. Simply put, the space was needed.”