Category Archives: Local politics

Board Of Ed Offers Update On Coleytown Middle

Two months after mold forced the closing of Coleytown Middle School — sending 6th and 7th graders to Bedford Middle, and 8th graders to Staples High School — administrators, town officials and the Board of Education is working hard to find a temporary solution. The Board of Ed says:

Our school district is undergoing an unprecedented situation. Seven weeks ago we voted to move students out of Coleytown Middle School. The Board acted quickly to hire both the architect and industrial hygienist to provide 3rd-party evaluations of the condition of the building.

We are sending this communication to the community to let you know what actions are being taken by the Board to address this situation in both the short- and long-term.

Coleytown Middle School

Last Monday, we heard a report from KG+D Architects about their assessment of Coleytown Middle School. KG+D offered very preliminary cost estimates of 3 options to remediate or rebuild Coleytown Middle School, ranging from $25 to $70 million.  The report is available for viewing at: http://bit.ly/KGD-CMSReport-2018-11-05.

The Board of Education also authorized the creation of an ad hoc townwide committee to advise and make recommendations to the Board on the short- and long-term needs of our district’s educational and physical facilities. Our town has precedent for these committees and we are moving expeditiously to activate these. People willing to serve on this committee can send an email expressing their interest to Mark Mathias (mmathias@westportps.org).

Ultimately these decisions lie with the Board, but we are soliciting community input in order to inform our decision-making.

So, what’s happening next?

First, on Thursday (November 15, Bedford Middle School, 7:30 p.m.), an open meeting will be held. The public can hear from and ask questions of Kris Szabo, Dr. Adam Rosen and James D’Amico (Coleytown, Bedford and Staples principals) about progress at Bedford and Staples. District administrators and members of the Board of Education will also be present.

Second, no later than Monday, November 19, we will receive the report from the industrial hygienist on their review and recommendations on Coleytown Middle School.

Third, we are currently constituting the ad hoc townwide committee that will include stakeholders from our town. Dates for the ad hoc committee-related and community events include:

  • Tuesday, November 13 (Town Hall, 7:30 a.m.): The Finance and Facilities Committee has first on its agenda the “Formation and composition of a town-wide committee” that was authorized by the Board last Monday
  • Sunday, November 18 (Town Hall, 5 p.m.): Preview to the ad hoc committee by Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools, the 2019-2020 academic year options
  • Monday, November 19 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): Dr. Palmer will present to and discuss with the Board of Education options for the 2019-2020 academic year
  • Tuesday, November 27 (Long Lots Elementary School auditorium, 7 p.m.): Evening open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Wednesday, November 28 (Town Hall, 12:00 p.m.): Daytime open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Thursday, November 29 (Town Hall): Ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the 2019-2020 academic year options and make a recommendation to present to the Board of Education
  • Monday, December 3 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 pm): Ad hoc committee will present to the Board of Education their recommendation
  • Monday, December 10 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): The Board of Education will decide how to proceed for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The challenges our town has faced this academic year are substantial. Closing a school during the school year is not a decision that we take lightly. The situation has affected everyone in our schools, and is a test of our ability to handle disruption. Through years of building top teams of teachers, staff and administrators, we are confident in our teachers, staff and administrators.

It’s also clear that this year is different for everyone involved with our education system. This is not the year that anyone planned. Some people have been affected more than others. We have been and continue to work to address everyone’s needs.

Bedford Middle School

Most importantly, we have focused on the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our continuing efforts to provide the top notch education for which Westport is known.

More updates will be coming from Dr. Palmer and the Board of Education as we work through this together.

Finally, we appreciate the feedback we have received from the community. It is your support, varied perspectives and specific insights that help us make decisions that will affect us now and for years to come. Board members’ individual contact information can be found by clicking here. Alternatively, the entire Board can be reached by email at boe@westportps.org.  Videos of our public meetings can be viewed by clicking here.

Westport Votes Blue; 2 Democrats Win

Westport backed all 4 Democratic candidates in yesterday’s state Senate and House races. That helped deliver 2 of those districts to the Democratic Party.

Will Haskell

In a race that drew statewide — even national — attention, 22-year-old Staples High School graduate Will Haskell thrashed longtime incumbent Toni Boucher, for the State Senate 26th district seat.

Haskell’s 64-36% winning margin — against a politician who was in office as long as he’d been alive — was helped by a strong base of active volunteers. The recent Georgetown University graduate galvanized many young voters, and women.

Staples grad Jonathan Steinberg returns to Hartford, representing House district 136. He beat back a challenge from Republican Greg Kraut, a newcomer to politics and a 2-year Westporter. The unofficial margin was 61-39%.

In races that involved small portions of Westport, Republican incumbents Tony Hwang (State Senate district 28) and Gail Lavielle (State House district 143) retained their seats. However, both lost Westport to their Democratic challengers, Michelle Lapine McCabe and Stephanie Thomas, respectively.

 

Superintendent Offers Update On Coleytown Middle School

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer emailed the families of all Westport students. The topic: the current and future status of Coleytown Middle School, closed earlier this fall due to mold. She wrote:

Fourteen days into our new school year, I made the decision to relocate our students and staff from CMS to another facility for what I believed to be approximately a month. As events unfolded, that decision not to return to the CMS facility expanded to the entire school year.

Now, the district and town will be faced with the next steps in either remediating this school or choosing to invest differently in the future of this district.

There is nothing more sacred to any community than its school district; the quality of the educational process reflects the values of its citizens. Westport has never wavered from its commitment to a world-class system, and any next steps should encompass this belief as its foundational value.

As we move through the next steps of clarifying the future direction, it is imperative that all stakeholders feel assured that any process will be inclusive of our community. We could never have the best outcome for our children’s education if we did not work together to determine that pathway.

Coleytown Middle School

Below I have listed some key information to bring everyone up to date:

What do we know right now and what are the decisions ahead?

·       The District has made a formal application for the right to install 6 modular classrooms at BMS and 2 at SHS through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  Working with our middle school administration, and James D’Amico and AJ Scheetz, they have determined that we can work through this year and provide science access for the 8th grade students without adding modular classrooms at SHS.

When we go before the ZBA, we only request for the permission to add modulars to SHS as a back-up for future needs, but we will not order the modulars for SHS now. We expect the request to the ZBA to be for a period of 3 years – again, this is permission to put modular classrooms there, we don’t need to have them for 3 years or we may never need them at SHS. It is a complicated and costly process to go to ZBA, and asking for possible needs of the future makes sense now.

·       The 6 BMS modular classrooms (assuming we get all the Town approvals ASAP) should be installed in January 2019. All town officials have been working in every way possible to assist our efforts, which has been so very helpful to move the approval process along.

·        A revised schedule of classes was put in place this week for our middle schools to ensure no teacher has only a few minutes between classes to get to another school to start teaching again and to better use the classroom space.

·       New lockers for CMS students will be installed next week at BMS.

·       The town attorney provided an opinion to us that we cannot seek to have a cover installed over any of our athletic fields at BMS given the various agreements that are in place with neighbors of the school property. We will not pursue the cover for the field based on this information. The new schedule at BMS limits PE classes to 6 at any given time, which can be accommodated with current gym/fitness space and the cafeteria for low-impact activities (non-lunch times.)

·       The architectural firm will provide a comprehensive update of the CMS facility at the BoE meeting on Monday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. We expect that they will provide a complete update of what it would take to remediate the school, as well as the cost to build a new one. Given the extensive problems already identified with the preliminary engineering reports posted on the CMS website, we anticipate hearing that we will be out of the CMS facility through all of next year as well, no matter if the BoE/Town opt to repair the school or go another direction.

Bedford Middle School

What does it mean if we find out we cannot use the CMS facility for the 2019-20 school year?

·       We will need to plan to house our students next year with our 7 facilities and perhaps some modulars and/or rented space.

·       We have a RFP out to identify a realtor in the next week or so to assist with our search for real estate that we could rent.

·       There are a multitude of ways that we could house our district next year, and each approach will be vetted for feasibility/effectiveness. As we review various ideas for housing students, we will consider the ability to deliver the educational program in the space provided, transportation, disruption to students/family/ district, cost, and any other relevant factors that impact how we serve our students and families.

·       There are plenty of rumors, but some of the approaches we are considering include renting space for the entire CMS school, renting space for part of CMS, moving grade 6 back to the elementary schools (in various configurations) with BMS holding all grade 7/8, renting space for preschool and kindergarten and using elementary for grades 1-6 with BMS 7/8.

As you can imagine, almost any way we can look at next year is being considered. While double sessions at BMS would be an option, there are numerous ways this would undermine the delivery of the educational program with a shortened day and there would be significant disruption to students and staff with the morning session from 7:00 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session from 12:40 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

At this time, we do not have plans to house other students at SHS next year.  It is our goal to maintain SHS solely for 9-12, but we cannot guarantee at this time until the final plan for next year is completed.

Staples High School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

·       We are in the midst of creating a budget for 2019-20, and I am responsible for a complete budget proposal to the BoE for 2019-20 in January 2019, about 9 weeks from now. Needing to build the budget for the Town approval process will put added pressure on the district to decide how we will structure ourselves next year as soon as possible.

We plan to bring forth the most promising proposals for next year in the next few weeks so the Board may weigh in on these as soon as possible. We will also create opportunities for families and staff to help give us feedback on options for next year as well before a decision is made by the BoE for 2019-2020.

Where are we going long-term, beyond 2019-2020?

·       Once the BoE/town officials have all the numbers of the cost of remediation, the decision needs to be made whether to repair or not. If the decision is made not to remediate, it would be appropriate that the district would contract to have all of its facilities assessed for future educational use in terms of the capacity of each school, educational use of the school, upgrades or repairs required, and other relevant facilities information on each structure.

We may not have an answer to any long-term direction of space usage right away if the district/town do not repair the school.  Most likely that would be require a period of months to determine, with opportunities for all parents and citizens to have a voice in the process.

What will be the process for inclusion of all stakeholders if the district/town determine CMS facility should not be remediated and other options should be considered?

·       The Board of Education and the administration have worked to be fully transparent in all decisions and work thus far as the district has grappled with the very unexpected closure of one of our middle schools in the midst of a school year. Key documents and reports have all been posted online, either at the CMS website or on the District website where all Board meetings agendas, minutes, and videos of meetings are maintained.

·       The Board of Education has made a public pledge to ensure an inclusive process with all stakeholders if the CMS facility is not remediated and next steps for the future of the District are on the table. Until that decision is made regarding the future of CMS, it has been premature to articulate a definitive planning approach for the future. If and when the decision would be made not to save CMS, the Board would act accordingly to invite the voices of all stakeholders.

What are the current conditions for our middle school students?

·       First and foremost, if you have any specific concerns regarding your own student, please contact the respective principal directly to discuss. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo welcome hearing from parents to assist in any way. If it is just an issue related to a specific course, it is best to start the conversation at the teacher level.

However, if you have any concerns, let us know. Our team of professionals is eager to work with you to resolve any lingering issues from the shift in facilities this year. We take care of our students one child at a time, and will remain focused on concerns until they are resolved in the best interests of each child.

·       The instructional program remains of high quality to all students – teaching and learning are ongoing and our professionals are placing the needs of students as their top priority of their professional work.

·       Have there been some adjustments to space and time? Yes, but the integrity of the educational program continues.

·       Have there been some adjustments with clubs and activities? There have been a few adjustments, but not significant. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo will participate in the update of our middle schools at the BoE meeting on November 5. They will personally speak to these issues and how they have creatively addressed some pressure points.

Transit District Asks: What Do You Think?

How’re we doin’?

The Westport Transit District wants to know.

This morning, officials unveiled a survey for Westport residents, Saugatuck and Greens Farms train riders, and commuter shuttle users.

The goal is to understand evolving transportation preferences, including:

  • Measuring satisfaction levels with WTD services
  • Measuring awareness of WTD options
  • Eliciting input on potential new services, and
  • Measuring the perceived importance of WTD offerings.

An email from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe invited residents to participate in the survey. Postcards with links to the survey have been distributed to shuttle riders, by drivers.

Take the bus to the train? What do you think?

Two years ago, a similar survey drew over 1,400 responses.

Need an incentive to fill out the survey? The Naan and Rizzuto restaurants are offering $100 gift certificates, to 2 respondents picked at random.

To take the survey, click here. For more information, click here or call WTD director Marty Fox: 917-612-6982.

And The Next 8-30(g) Affordable Housing Application Is …

Hot on the heels of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of an application for construction of a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, comes news of a new plan, on the other side of town.

This one is smaller: just 19 units. As with other applications — Post Road West, Wilton Road and Hiawatha Lane, for example — this one includes an 8-30(g) element. That’s shorthand for the state statute that encourages “affordable” housing — and makes it harder for town officials to deny the request.

Then again, the site is smaller.

It’s 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South.

If the address sounds familiar, that’s because the property was in the news earlier this year.

Those are the sites of an 1853 house, and nearby studio and shed, formerly owned and used by noted artists Walter and Naiad Einsel.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

The plan — submitted by “Morningside Drive Homes, LLC” — consists of 19 3-bedroom townhouses, in 5 buildings. Six of those 19 units would be “income restricted,” in accordance with 8-30(g).

The studio and shed would remain. The 1853 farmhouse would be demolished.

A horseshoe-shaped private road off Morningside Drive South would serve the units. The exit would be directly across from the entrance to Greens Farms Elementary School. The entrance would be 150 feet south.

20 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — is a candidate for 8-30(g) development. (Photo/Anna DeVito)

As reported on “06880,” a long battle pitted a developer — who wanted to subdivide the property, while retaining the older structures — against preservationists.

The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application.

They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission. With only 1 abstention, the P&Z voted down the request to subdivide.

With this new 8-30(g) application, odds are good the P&Z is not finished with South Morningside.

Neighbors Celebrate P&Z Rejection Of Post Road West Complex

Rich Bailey, chair of Westport Neighbors United, sent this email late last night:

At tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the commissioners formally rejected the application by Cross Street LLC to construct a 6-story, 81-unit apartment complex between Lincoln and Cross Streets, off Post Road West, by a 7-0 vote.

This rejection represents a significant setback for Cross Street LLC and a big victory for Westport Neighbors United and those who supported our efforts to protect and preserve this neighborhood from egregious over-development.

The formal opinion by the commissioners in rejecting this application will be available in a couple of days and will be sent out to WNU supporters.

In the meantime, we want to say a very sincere “thank you” to those who have attended various P&Z meetings, contributed to our funding requests, sent in photos and emails to P&Z staff citing your concerns, and taking other supportive actions. The commissioners listened to you. and in our opinion took an appropriate action.

In turning down the application, the P&Z cited fire, traffic and other safety concerns.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Cross Street complex.

Westport’s Newest Study: “Main To Train”

I’ve never gotten a press release from the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

Actually, I’ve never even heard of them.

But they’ve got a website. A logo.

And this news:

The Town of Westport is hosting a public information session on Monday, October 1 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) to introduce the Westport “Main to Train” Study.

The study will “identify improvements to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian safety and circulation on Post Road East and Riverside Avenue. This will create better connections between the commercial center of town and the Saugatuck train station, and promote non-motorized transportation choices.”

Post Road and Riverside Avenue. The “Main to Train” includes the often-gridlocked intersection.

The meeting — one of 5 scheduled for the course of the study — will “provide participants with an opportunity to learn about the study’s purpose, schedule, and scope, and to share their observations, concerns and ideas with the project team.”

For more information, click here for the Westport Main to Train website. Or contact WestCOG associate planner Nicole Sullivan: nsullivan@westcog.org.

Name That Lot!

You may have heard the name Sigrid Schultz.

A pioneering female war correspondent, broadcaster and author who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world, she hid her Jewish heritage from the likes of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, whom she loathed but entertained in her Berlin home for the sole purpose of extracting information.

Sigrid Schultz

After Schultz and her mother fled Germany, they bought a house and barn at 35 Elm Street. When Sigrid died in 1980, the town demolished her home to expand the Baldwin parking lot.

This famous woman has remained largely unknown in her adopted hometown. But that may change soon, if a Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recommendation to name the new Elm Street parking lot — the one next to Bedford Square, created by the demolition of Villa del Sol directly opposite the Baldwin lot — is approved by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the town’s Traffic Authority.

Then again, it may not be named the Sigrid Schultz Parking Lot.

DPIC member Dewey Loselle suggested celebrating former Public Works head Steve Edwards. The longtime but low-key director nixed that idea.

Another suggestion was to honor the residents of 22 1/2 Main Street — the African American boardinghouse that went up in flames (probably arson) nearly 70 years ago. The location was adjacent to the new parking lot.

It might be tough coming up with an appropriate name — “22 1/2 Main Street lot” would be too confusing for the Elm Street address.

But that hasn’t hasn’t stopped one Westporter from taking a second look.

Chip Stephens grew up here. As a Planning & Zoning Commission member, he attends DPIC meetings. He wants to make sure the name of the new lot reflects town sentiment — not simply the will of one committee.

Pete Wassell

Perhaps, he says, the lot should be named after the Wassell brothers. Harry, Bud and Pete were all killed within 15 months of each other, during World War II.

Or, Stephens says, maybe there are other Westporters we should consider.

So let’s have a townwide discussion, right here on “06880.” Click “Comments” to offer suggestions, and debate the ideas.

Sure, it’s only a parking lot. But, as Stephens notes, “it will be there forever.”

FUN FACTS: So who is this Baldwin that the other Elm Street lot is named for? Herb Baldwin — a former first selectman. 

And on the other side of Main Street, Parker Harding Plaza is named for co-sponsors Emerson Parker and Evan Harding. Fortunately — considering the state of that parking lot — everyone has forgotten those two.

36 Elm Street was demolished in January, to make room for a new parking lot next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)

 

Vote! But Where? And When?

In the days leading up to Connecticut’s primary election this month, I did not receive my usual postcard reminding me when and where to vote.

That’s important information. In addition to voting day coming in the middle of summer — when one day slides into the next — my polling place has changed twice. First it was Saugatuck Elementary School. Then it was the Westport Library. Now — with renovation underway — I vote at Town Hall.

But I googled that info on my own, the day before the election.

I figured my postcard got lost in the mail.

In fact, there were no postcards.

Alert “06880” reader — and noted journalist/author Andrée Aelion Brooks, who spent 18 years with the New York Times — writes:

Westport and surrounding towns no longer send out postcards confirming the resident’s polling station and date of the election. This came to my attention after the primary last week, when many neighbors and friends said they did not vote because they were unaware it was the right date for Connecticut.

I contacted the Registrar of Voters, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Apparently the town saves money this way, and they do not believe cards are needed any longer.

This is not true. And it will depress voter turnout, especially in communities where residents rely even more on this low-tech method of reminders.

If this is a statewide issue, perhaps it can be solved at the state level. If it is a local issue, perhaps we can muster some awareness of the need for change.

Pickleballers: Beach Bathrooms Don’t Pass The Smell Test

By many measures (though not the weather), this has been a wonderful summer.

Parks and Recreation’s Compo Beach-calming plans minimized crowds, and maximized cleanliness. Innovations like the Mobi-Mat and reworking the entrance road drew raves.

A few more ideas are in the works. A walkway — similar to the one built last year between the pavilion and cannons — is set for South Beach. Bathrooms will replace port-o-potties nearby.

“Nearby” means close to the pickleball area. Constructed a few years ago, the courts have seen steadily increased use.

Compo Beach pickleball courts. Existing bathrooms are far in the background.

Recently, players put down their paddles, picked up pens, and protested Parks and Rec’s plans.

In letters to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Jen Fava and Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh, the pickleballers cite several concerns:

  • The new bathrooms “will block both the lovely views and welcoming air flow/breeze”
  • They’ll “most likely result in unwelcoming smells (sewage related, disinfectant, etc.)”
  • “Staring at the back of a bathroom is not anyone’s idea of a good time.”

One writer argues that moving the location “just 50 feet over would make a huge difference to the 100+ pickleball players in town (with more joining the sport every day!)”

Granted, this is a first world problem. Billions of citizens around the globe have no access to sanitation of any kind — let alone pickleball courts.

But it’s a reflection of the love Westporters have for Compo Beach that the location of new bathrooms creates such a you-know-what storm.