Plans for ECC future locations bring concerns over capacity, programming

FAIRFIELD — The Early Childhood Center, currently split between Warde High School and Stratfield Elementary, could potentially be shifted between other schools in the coming years as administrators and elected officials consider facility and program concerns.

Superintendent Toni Jones reiterated that a growing student enrollment at the ECC and facilities facing near-capacity limitations had led to the divvying of the program between its two current locations.

“We came back to the board after the facilities rubric and brought the program rubric because you just can’t look at the school facility, you need to understand what programs are at the buildings (we’re looking at),” Jones said at the May 21 meeting.

According to data from school administrators, there are 172 students pre-enrolled at the ECC for next school year, over double the number from a decade ago.

The program, with a total of 16 sections, has a capacity for 240 students total and enrollment is expected to go up in coming years.

The Board of Education earlier this year voted to have more students sent to the ECC location at Stratfield Elementary, a move that concerned ECC staff and parents who have consistently advocated to keep students in a single location.

Though the board has yet to take a vote on an action plan for the center’s future years, administrators have proposed that the Warde ECC location be phased out as soon as 2020.

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To learn more about proposed plans for the ECC, click here.

According to a proposal, the ECC would host students at its current Warde High School and Stratfield Elementary location for the 2019-20 school year.

By 2020-21, there would be an ECC location at Holland Hill and another at North Stratfield with a tentative third site at Stratfield, though this last location option is still up in the air.

“That’s going to be a board decision,” Jones said regarding the tentative option to have Stratfield as the third ECC site for the 2020-21 school year. “We left it to be determined by a future board decision.”

For the 2021-22 school year, the ECC would be split between Holland Hill and North Stratfield Elementary.

Some board members called for more information regarding projected enrollment and how that would affect school utilization and capacity, which is becoming a larger issue as some school populations approach their limits.

“I have some serious concerns, we need all this programming but we also need K-5 (schools and programming) and I don’t want us to make short-sighted decisions...with all these classes taken out of circulation,” Board member Jennifer Jacobsen said.

The Board of Selectmen decision at their May 22 meeting to approve funding for a 441-student Mill Hill School -- while the Board of Education advocated for a larger, 504-sized school -- also throws a wrench in the schools’ long-term plans.

“My point is, 20 classrooms (for the ECC) is an elementary school,” Jacobsen said. “Whether we’re closing a school or taking elementary school capacity building all these classrooms in K-5 schools, we’re by equivalency closing a school.”

The possibility of a centralized ECC seems all but gone since February when a majority of the board, in an informal vote, was in favor of a two-site ECC, a sentiment that was reaffirmed at the Tuesday meeting.

“We did look at universities for space, town facilities and privately-owned schools for space in order to keep the ECC together...we were not successful,” Chairman Christine Vitale said. “The question before the board is really what we do with the current ECC at Warde as we move forward, whether that stays as an ECC space or not.”