[OPINION] “Compacted” Long Lots Could Work

On Wednesday night, several Planning & Zoning Commission candidates promised to examine thoroughly the proposal for a new Long Lots Elementary School, and to “think outside the box.”

One “06880” reader is doing that.

Yulee Aronson is a licensed professional engineer, with 40 years of construction management and project controls experience, overseeing many high-profile and complex projects. He says, “I have never encountered a construction problem that couldn’t be overcome.”

Locally, Aronson has worked on the reconstruction of Staples High School and the William F. Cribari Bridge, and the chlorination building at the wastewater pollution facility. Other projects include Penn Station access, the reconstruction of La Guardia Airport, and the Baltimore Potomac Tunnel replacement.

He writes: 

The Long Lots School project may be the most expensive capital construction project in Westport’s history.

The project site is unique. It houses the school, athletic fields for the town, and community gardens. In addition, such major construction project will have an impact on the delicate ecosystem of the neighborhood.

Thus far, the options developed by the Town-hired consultants and presented by the School Building Committee are deficient in taking into consideration the interests of all parties that occupy the property. SBC’s recommended solution, Option C, keeps all stakeholders at the site but relocates the community gardens. Relocating the gardens destroys the delicate ecosystem that was created over the course of the last 20 years.

Long Lots “Option C”

Over the course of public hearings, several alternative solutions were presented by various professionals who live in town. These solutions consisted of a new school building of a similar size and function, properly sized athletic fields proposed in the footprint of the existing school, and the community gardens to remain in place with no environmental impact to the neighbors. For one reason or another, these solutions were dismissed as not viable

I’ve reviewed the report prepared by the consultants. I conclude that the selected Option C can be “compacted,” thus eliminating the need for building the baseball field over the gardens. An example of such “compaction” is as follows:

The proposed school footprint can be narrowed by 50 feet by stretching it in a north-south direction, and narrowing the courtyard in the east-west direction. The classrooms would “slide” along the perimeter of the interior wall of the courthouse, without affecting adjacency.

Additionally, the northern part of the parking/drive area can be moved closer to the school building by 50 feet, straightening the “S” configuration. The grass islands between parking/drive lanes can be eliminated for a gain of another 50 feet, leaving small islands for site lighting.

This would allow for the shift of the baseball field by about 150 feet in the westerly direction, and off the footprint of the existing gardens.

If I’m off by another 50 feet I’m sure it could be found by moving the baseball field closer to the parking area by 25 feet, and shifting the entire school building west another 25 feet.

Lastly, during construction, a controlled and safe fenced-in passageway could be created to allow gardeners access for continued maintenance of the gardens.

To reiterate, this is just one of several possible solutions that could be developed.

When a municipality or any other public entity embarks on major projects such as this, it often seeks peer reviews of the designs prepared by their primary consultants to make sure that they get the best value for their money and obtain the best solution.

It would be prudent for the town to seek an independent peer review of the currently proposed design. This review should be performed by an independent professional entity in charge of finding a design solution that satisfies the interests of all stakeholders. Alternatively, this can be requested of the current consultants.

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21 responses to “[OPINION] “Compacted” Long Lots Could Work

  1. Thank you Mr. Aronson for your insightful, thoughtful and informative alternative to a controversial issue. Sometimes it takes a person with experience and a fresh perspective to help those who are struggling with finding a balanced approach. Excellent proposal!

  2. Now that makes sense! Thank you sir for investing the time and your expertise. I hope this alternative is taken seriously

  3. IF a new building is the best choice, this proposal, and others which have been suggested on 06880 should be on the table. Given that this would be a ‘forever’ infrastructure investment, some form of design competition which incorporates voter input would be appropriate.
    The current decision process is deficient.

  4. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Your solution would be a win for everyone including the BoE, students, sports families, neighbors, and gardeners, but also the wildlife, native plantings, and delicate ecosystem.

    How do we get the Town to even take this into consideration?

  5. Steven Rothenberg

    Thank you very much for your expertise and time related to figuring out a proposal for the Long Lots project. This plan seems to make sense and I am glad the community garden would be maintained. I hope this solution becomes viable!

  6. Phyllis Freeman

    This sounds like the voice of sanity. Let’s keep working toward a win-win solution for all!

  7. Thank you Mr. Aronson, for your expertise and insight and time for coming up with a solution that could accommodate all of the priorities that have been stated by the town to include the community gardens remaining in place and being able to be maintained during the construction, finding enough space for the baseball field in the size they want and for finding a way to build a brand new school while keeping the students in the current school during construction. It seems sensible to narrow the courtyard and maintaining the classroom and admin space and all the other aspects the original plans included for the students in size and locations. It maintains all the same amount of parking, access, fields and green spaces that the original plans had in it. It seems to be very reasonable and cost wise should remain the same or be less since they don’t have to touch the preserve or the gardens to accomplish this. I only wish someone had been able to think this up sooner to avoid all this wasted time arguing over all these issues.

    In addition, it would likely help keep the potential drainage Issues from getting worse and would likely remain the same as they are currently.

    Thank you again for your knowledge and insight! I only hope that the boards that need to review and approve plans take this into serious consideration before voting on only the current plan C.

  8. Thank you, Yulee! Where there is a will, there is a way!

    I especially like the suggestion of a fenced pathway to maintain access to the gardens during construction. The Committee’s insistence that the gardens be shut down for two years during construction is ludicrous, and is meant to bludgeon gardeners into submission. Where there is a will, there is a way.

    The Committee wants what it wants. I get that. Where there is a will there is a way. In my naive opinion, their plan has been baked into the town’s political back-door culture for quite some time. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

    Props to Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice:
    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

  9. Aside from the issue of the community gardens, I cannot understand how a relatively small elementary school building would cost nearly $100 million. I think I read the size of the school is roughly 100,000 square feet. It’s hard to imagine it can’t be built materially cheaper than $1,000 per square foot.

    • Deirdre O'Farrelly, architect

      Absolutely agree, there is no way this building should cost that much per sq.ft. Universities are building whole dorm. buildings for half that cost per sq.ft. including professional and consultant fees.

  10. “Nothing is impossible, it just takes a little longer!”
    This is the kind of thinking and careful evaluation and planning that it takes to produce better outcomes.
    This is also the same process that needs to happen at Parker Harding.project development and planning in Westport needs to “WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER!

  11. Thank you Mr. Aronson -I agree that there hasn’t been a complete exploration of the possibilities. Doing this now doesn’t just resolve the issues at hand but allows for a better overall solution. Taking the time now to explore is more then worthwhile when you realize this school building has a major impact for the whole town and the next 60 years and at least 2 generations. Can we afford to leave a stone unturned?
    PS- for the decision makers on this project (and all projects) the book Paved Paradise by Henry Grabar is a must read. Do your homework!

  12. I want to congratulate all the competing interests involve with this project! With all your help you’ve managed to win the annual “kick the can down the road” award for delaying a project until we’re in the worst possible economic climate for a capital intensive project such as this in over 2 decades. You’ve hit that sweet spot at the confluence of COVID-caused materials cost escalation, higher inflation, higher interest rates and, of course, the typical premium margins added to any government controlled project, congrats! With any luck, and all the capital projects the Selectwoman’s office wants added, the Town debt will rise from $110MM to maybe even $400MM perhaps, a new record! What’s $30MM/year in debt service alone? As the most famous bus driver in history once said, “A mere bag of shells!”. You’ve won the prize! Honorable mention goes to all involved with kicking the can down the road for meeting our affordable housing requirements, although to be honest the true cost of that is yet to be felt! Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel on affordable housing, but unfortunately, it’s a train. Keep up the great work! There’s always next year’s award!

  13. Dear Dan,

    Please consider this my request that Yulee Aronson be celebrated as an Unsung Hero.

  14. margaret freeman

    Thank you, Yulee. Now let’s see if these suggestions and solution are taken into consideration by the LLBC and appropriate town departments.

  15. I appreciate these suggestions, especially not accepting as fact that the community gardens and preserve must be inaccessible during the course of construction. In terms of the plan for the building, I am even more in favor of that put forward by architect Joe Vallone a couple of weeks ago. His suggestion, to reduce the building footprint by constructing a 3 story school (and we have other elementary schools that are 3 stories do it should not have been dismissed out of hand by the LLBC) seems to make even more sense. The smaller footprint frees up space on the campus for other uses, including maintain gardens and preserve in situ, but perhaps even more importantly, means a building that can be greener, likely with less cost to build and certainly utilizing less resources and taxpayer dollars to heat, cool and maintain over its life.
    As other boards examine this project in the course of the approval process I hope they consider this very sound alternative proposal as well.

  16. Bert S. Twombly

    Thanks Yulee.

  17. Karen La Costa Mather

    Thank you so much Yulee for speaking out on behalf of the Garden/Preserves at Building Committee meetings and for your time and effort in creating a solution that makes stakeholders happy! I wish we had a few open-minded Yulees on the Committee from the start instead of the ones who had their pre-determined plan from the start. I pray your plan is considered and the beautiful Garden/Preserves, full of soul and goodness, remain a town jewel and is incorporated into the education of our Westport students. Many, many thanks Yulee!

  18. Another thank you to Yulee for taking the time to put together a wonderful option, that includes all the stakeholders and actually gives everyone what they want. Now how do we go about getting our elected officials to take this seriously?

  19. This plan is a nonpartisan, cost effective, ed spec compliant proposal that requires serious consideration.
    It is offered by a Westport expert with successful previous experience in the building of Westport schools. Among the many positive elements of the plan are-
    A)the Bd of Ed gets a new school with comparable square feet in the same location as the currently proposal with less risks of time consuming and costly delays due to lawsuits and petitions from stakeholders deeply frustrated by the currently recommended plan,
    B) Parks and Rec gets a field it feared loosing,
    C) the the award winning community gardens are preserved where they are, and
    E ) it least affects the neighbors who have shared their concerns about the proposed sport field’s proximity to their property line.

    I have heard Yulee say many times that if everyone works together there is no reason we can’t come up with a superior plan that satisfies all concerned parties. He deserves our thanks for his time on this and shows us that he lives by that credo!

  20. Yulee Aronson makes more sense the other experts

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