[OPINION] Enrollment, Redistricting Should Be Part Of Long Lots Decision

Much has already been written about the proposal for a new Long Lots Elementary School.

Discussion has centered largely on the decision to place a new school on the current baseball field, and build a new diamond on the site of the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve.

Less attention has been paid to another factor: the proposed size of the school, based on enrollment and possible redistricting.

Edie and Sam Anderson have live on Hyde Lane, next to Long Lots, since 1983. They sent this letter to 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker: 

As you consider the proposal made by the Long Lots School Building Committee, please keep in mind the many stakeholders in this decision including the students, neighboring property owners, homes affected by Muddy Brook flooding, Parks &Recreation programs, and the Community Garden.

This is a $100,000,000 generational decision that deserves more careful study, or at least fine tuning.

The LLSBC performed yeoman’s service, carefully studying a wide range of options for the location of the new vs renovated school, resulting in the proposed “Option C.”

The Long Lots School Building Committee recommended “Option C” for a new structure. 

This was based upon consideration of many stakeholders and an effort to meet the criteria laid out in the Educational Specs it was given by the Board of Education. Given this direction, the LLSBC did a good job.

However, the ed specs which are the foundation of the planning has troubling flaws.  Now that the preliminary study is complete, it is time to get the details correct.

The Board of Ed acknowledges the need to redistrict and utilize excess capacity in other schools, yet this was not reflected in the Ed Specs, which call for a 33% increase in enrollment far in excess of other Westport elementary schools and comparable surrounding towns.

At the Board of Ed meeting on January 23, 2023 (prior to the issuance of the ed specs), the imbalance between elementary and middle school populations was noted, and the need to redistrict was discussed.

The board indicated that 100+ students could be moved from Long Lots to other elementary schools, which have excess capacity. At this meeting the superintendent indicated that an elementary school should not exceed 600.  Despite this, the ed specs call for 687 elementary students and 98 pre-school students.

The current LL enrollment is 588. All the other Westport elementary schools range from 430 to 479 students.  In addition, post-COVID, Westport’s elementary school population has declined by 50 students. Total enrollment for all Westport schools and the entire state is also down.

This is relevant because reducing the base population of LL by 100+ via redistricting would result in enrollment of 488 (similar to other Westport elementary schools).

This would reduce the size and the cost of the new building, and would improve the quality of the environment for young children to be consistent with other Westport schools.

A quick survey of surrounding school districts shows enrollment around 450 students. Building a “right” sized elementary school would significantly reduce the traffic and improve the quality of life for all stakeholder—students and neighbors.

The current Long Lots Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Adding Stepping Stones to an already very large elementary school simply exacerbates the situation.

The Long Lots ed specs call for 687 elementary students, plus 96 Stepping Stones pre-school children, totaling an enrollment of 783. This is a 33% increase in students (not including the increase in teachers and support staff.) The question here is: How big is too big?

This plan is inconsistent with the enrollment of all other Westport elementary schools, as well as elementary schools in neighboring towns.

This significant increase in enrollment would interfere with the residential nature of the neighborhood, and result in more traffic and noise in an already very busy location.

The Long Lots campus is within a residential area, AA zoned. A 33% increase in traffic and noise will be significant, and disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of our neighborhood. I should also note that the Long Lots neighborhood hosts thousands of children each year, who use the fields as well as 100+ Community Gardeners.

The most favorable option for all stakeholders is concept B. It meets the ed specs, maintains the current buffers from neighbors and Muddy Brook, and preserves the fields, parking and Community Gardens.

The selection of Concept C for a new school is the recommendation made by the LLSBC to minimize the damage to as many stakeholders as possible.  However, the committee acknowledged that current building is ideally located in the center of the campus. This location provides the best possible buffer from the neighbors, while hosting 2 soccer fields, a multi-purpose field and the community garden. Further, the Long Lots campus is in an environmentally sensitive area with wetlands on and near the campus as well as nearby Muddy Brook.

Muddy Brook, after a recent rain. (Photo/Peter Swift)

Concept B vs concept C.  Renovating requires managing the project and student population while the school is in session.  Westport has done this successfully many times before.

It appears that the biggest objection to the renovation options is the inconvenience/difficultly of working around an operating school. This is not in-surmountable. It has been accomplished successfully many times in Westport,  Coleytown Middle School and Staples High being the most recent examples.

Earlier renovations (1990s) to Long Lots and Kings Highway were also managed successfully. (Our daughter graduated from Staples in 2006, and experienced all of the above renovations).

Cost and time vs. long-term benefit of a school that remains in the center of the campus is clear. Concept B would maintain the character of the neighborhood, and provide students with a new “neighborhood” elementary school which they deserve.

The prospect of 29 months vs. 18 months for this project is daunting for the Long Lots’ neighborhood. However, the 50-year benefits of a well-sited school that respects the quality of the neighborhood by maintaining the status quo seems like a good trade for a few extra months of construction disruption.

Redistricting and keeping the school at the center of the campus maintains the status quo for all stakeholders, while providing the Long Lots school community with a beautiful new facility which they will enjoy for 50+ years. Surely it is worth the time to take a harder look at creating the best school for all the stakeholders in the long term. Ultimately, this must be our goal.

Next steps:

  1. Develop the redistricting plan and revise the ed specs accordingly.
  2. Consider other options for Stepping Stones within the district.
  3. Thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of moving the school
  4. The intersection of Hyde Lane and Long Lots Road has already been identified a problem — evaluate the impact of 33% more school related traffic.

At this point, we ask that the ed specs be revised, and serious consideration be given to “right” sizing this school to be optimal for the students and surrounding neighborhood.

It’s time to think outside the box and get the best plan on the table. For example, Weston, Darien and Greenwich have incorporated their pre-school classes within several elementary schools.

Certainly, utilizing excess capacity in existing schools and balancing the student population via redistricting could be accomplished.

We hope that we have outlined some of the many questions that should be directly and openly addressed before proceeding with design plans. Again, this is a $100 million generational decision that we need to get right.

9 responses to “[OPINION] Enrollment, Redistricting Should Be Part Of Long Lots Decision

  1. Well done, fact-based reasoning. A NEW school simply isn’t needed, and the one proposed is simply taking past paradigms and applying them to this project. Westport has FIVE elementary schools. Perhaps one too many but building a brand new “mega school” for K-5 is perplexing at best.

  2. Bert S. Twombly

    If it weren’t perplexing it wouldn’t be Westport.

  3. Daryl Styner-Presley

    What a well thought out, fact based piece that should be given sufficient consideration for its merit on multiple points sited.

  4. Robert Harrington

    One of the real privileges of being a Board of Education Member is getting to listen and interact with valued community members like Edie Anderson. Thank you so much Edie for all your thoughts, efforts and overall engagement. You have delivered your comments with respect, grace and wisdom.

    I don’t agree with all of Edie’s comments. I do really think Westport needs a new school buildings. The cost to renovate and 40% longer construction time with a renovation is highly significant.

    However, I do agree with Edie on a couple of key areas.

    Size of school – I do think we will be locking in for 70 years plus an elementary school at Long Lots (even before adding Stepping Stones Preschool) that will be meaningfully larger than any of our other 4 elementary schools. It is today. But we are preparing for that gap to get even bigger.

    Redistricting – I do agree with Edie on redistricting. I have been vocal on this. I think the administration and parts of the BOE are slow-walking on redistricting. We say we are looking at it – but it is painfully slow. Noone wants to rush it and it needs to be thoughtfully planned and communicated. However, there are two realities that I want to be clear about:

    1) There are spaces at other schools that we are simply ignoring for too long. This was clear from the Capacity Study earlier this year; and
    2) If we add the capacity for additional students at a New Long Lots it’s only common sense that this reduces the pressure, or maybe even the need to progress with redistricting.

    Traffic – I am seriously concerned with traffic implications (something that is causing problems across town with no plans). A 33% increase in people using the Long Lots campus for education will have meaningful impactful to the area.

  5. At the BoE meeting last night one public speaker highlighted several issues that were raised with the LLESBC last January, including redistricting. Apparently, it was evident that those issues, including redistricting would be part of the proposal for Long Lots. Sadly, but consistent with much of the travesty surrounding the LLESBC, redistricting has not been made a part of the process. The matter is important and would seem to relate to the size of the proposed new Long Lots.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful perspective. Where is the traffic study that would support a 33% traffic increase in a AA zone neighborhood? I 100% agree that redistricting should have been addressed – which could have solved many of the challenges this project is facing. Bigger is not always better, especially when we are talking about elementary schools! I’m sad to see another mega project get approved without proper representation of residents, gardeners and the wider town community. As previously noted in articles here, an invitation to a hearing and being able to listen in, is not the same as being represented at the table with a vote.

  7. As Peter Swift’s photo shows those of us in Harvest Commons and adjacent areas are deeply concerned about flooding. Unfortunately I have not heard anything that addresses my concerns.

  8. Why not start with letting families currently zoned for LLES volunteer to be restricted? Review the requests and grant the ones that make sense geographically. I’m equidistant to 2 schools. My kids haven’t started elementary yet. I’m sure there are more families in the same boat.

  9. Also Stepping Stones I’m not just a pre-school. It’s a community where parents of special needs children can lean on one another and share resources.

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