Mill Hill School perspective
To the Editor:
We would like to provide some additional perspective regarding our vote on the Mill Hill School renovation project. Our community should always have transparency as to why their leaders make the decisions they do, and we will always be available to explain the choices we make for Fairfield.
It is important to note that the current capacity of Mill Hill School is 378, therefore moving to a 441 capacity is almost a 17% increase. Importantly, our Board supported a significant investment of $22 million in Mill Hill while also supporting the neighborhood school concept and not overburdening taxpayers during a difficult and uncertain economic time here in the State of Connecticut. We believe in investing in school infrastructure projects. The investment in Mill Hill School will eliminate 5 portables currently in use, it will provide appropriate classroom space for specialized programming, it expands the size of core areas such as the library media center and the cafeteria, improves the drop off lanes on campus, and air conditions the entire building, as just a few examples.
The points below further explain why we voted the way we did. We hope they are clear and help you to understand the overall sentiment from the members of the Board of Finance that supported the 441 capacity project versus the 504 capacity funding.
We believe in neighborhood schools. However, we could not understand how spending additional funds to increase Mill Hill’s capacity to 504 was the best plan to maintain this philosophy for the following reasons:
At a 441 capacity, none of the enrollment projections provided by the BOE remotely showed Mill Hill being at or over capacity during the next 10 years, (as far out as the projections provided), thus allowing Mill Hill families stability in remaining at their school. In fact, at that capacity, it meets the BOE goal of providing between 10-15% headroom even at the high peak enrollment projection.
The real enrollment issue is at Sherman School, which today is operating slightly above 100% of its capacity, it is not at Mill Hill. We would rather address the situation directly at Sherman -- preserving a neighborhood school -- than spend funds to add capacity at another school based on a yet undefined redistricting plan;
We believe safety is paramount. Based on personal observation and a memo from the Fairfield Police Department, which refused to draw conclusions on safety issues with additional traffic and congestion on the roads surrounding Mill Hill with the increased capacity, we had serious safety concerns for the neighborhood and did not want to exacerbate the problem.
Several years ago, in anticipation of these Mill Hill concerns, the BOF supported adding capacity, (over and above the original BOE request), at Holland Hill to decrease the need for an oversized addition at Mill Hill;
The BOE justified the need for additional capacity on two different 10 year enrollment projections, prepared by the same consulting firm 18 months apart, for the entire school system. Even allowing for including or not including pre-K student projections, there were discrepancies between the projections. The most current study, prepared in fall 2017, showed a significantly lower number of students for several of the years projected as compared to the earlier one. Neither of the projections indicated an overcapacity issue for the school district over the next 10 years;
The BOE did not provide any approved plans to address how Mill Hill would be utilized at a 504 capacity school vs at a 441 capacity. There were references to a town-wide redistricting to solve racial imbalance, but no approved plan was produced. There was a discussion regarding growing enrollment at the Early Childhood Center Warde Campus, which we believe to be true, however there is no approved plan to address this issue. In fact, by the time a renovated Mill Hill School comes on-line for use, the enrollment projections show that additional capacity will be available in other locations, including the Warde HS campus where the current preschool is housed, thus freeing up more capacity at the elementary school level. As a town we have invested over $2M in our ECC building at Warde, it is difficult to walk away from that type of financial investment, especially knowing that families that utilize that location prefer to stay in a unified campus.
The State recently changed its process for school building reimbursements and now considers the capacity of the district. If a district builds over the required/projected capacity, the State will reduce the reimbursement level. This raises a concern over our ability to recoup costs on the project, potentially raising the incremental cost of adding capacity over the approximate $1 million incremental expense that was quoted repeatedly;
While some have stated that an additional expenditure of $1 million for a 504 school over a 441 school was de minimis, there are significant other needs across the District and the Town that could benefit from that investment, potentially including a capacity solution at Sherman School.
Tom Flynn, Jim Brown, Mary LeClerc, Chris DeWitt, Jim Walsh
Fairfield Board of Finance
To the Editor:
With their new town plan, the Easton Planning & Zoning Commission is forcing commercial development upon quiet, scenic, pastoral Easton — all despite overwhelming public opposition.
In the few public hearings P&Z has held on this plan, nearly 100% of the public has spoken against opening the gates to commercial development here. Yet this P&Z commission (which includes large landowners, a real estate developer, and a real estate agent) is persisting in driving this plan forward.
In addition, P&Z is using untoward tactics. For example, in their last public hearing on new and confusing zoning regulations which they are proffering, P&Z refused to answer any questions from the public. When a member of the public tried to ask if they would hold a hearing in which they would answer questions, the chairman said,“We’ll make a determination after this one.” Then, after the last member of the public spoke, the chairman declared all public hearings closed, thereby rendering any such question and answer session impossible.
Easton P&Z has complete authority and autonomy. Easton citizens have no way to challenge or override P&Z’s decisions and actions. P&Z is an appointed commission, not an elected commission, and as such is not accountable in any way to the voters of Easton.
There is now a movement afoot to enable the Town Meeting (the legal legislative body of Easton consisting of its citizens) to replace this dictatorial Planning & Zoning Commission with a P&Z that will be elected by the town’s voters — and therefore be finally held accountable for their decisions and actions.