Selectmen Reject New Lebanon School Plan

By Bill Slocum
Contributing Editor

The Board of Selectmen Wednesday afternoon unanimously rejected a plan for rebuilding Byram’s New Lebanon Elementary School, saying it strays too far from a footprint the selectmen approved last summer.

First Selectman Peter Tesei asked the New Lebanon School Building Committee, which advanced the rejected plan, to go back and create a new plan that stays within perimeters previously set by the selectmen. Tesei specifically warned against use of a right-of-way area to the north of the existing school, a matter that would require the formal abandonment of a designated-but-unbuilt road.

“It seems perfunctory, but nothing in this town is perfunctory,” Tesei said.

Selectman Drew Marzullo expressed strong concern that the Board of Education, which also supported the rejected plan, has not specifically ruled out housing New Lebanon School students on campus while construction of a new school takes place. As recently as last week, Board of Education chair Laura Erickson had said redevelopment plans call for using the existing school structure while a new structure was built; Marzullo made clear again Wednesday that he will not support that.

“I do need reassurance from this board, I have been asking for it for a month,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to say it.”

Tesei urged architect Ryszard Szczypek and New Lebanon Building Committee Stephen Walko to stick more closely to the building envelope as defined by the selectmen. “You bring it back within that footprint, and I will vote for that,” he said.

Szczypek, Walko, and other advocates for the defeated plan had said that it made the best use of the land, creating 58,000 square feet of building area (the existing school building is 37,000 square feet) in an aesthetically pleasing and structurally efficient manner. Szczypek said he would strongly recommend against a three-story structure, as might be required by strict adherence to the selectmen-approved footprint in order to get to 58,000 square feet.

During his discussion with the selectmen, Walko noted that land outside the selectmen-approved building footprint would likely be needed, not for the school building itself, but to encompass larger parking, driveway, and playground areas, terming it part of a New Lebanon “campus.” Tesei indicated he could accept such a design.

After the meeting, Walko said the selectmen had provided some needed clarity on what to do next. While expressing disappointment with the selectmen’s decision, he said he remains optimistic a plan can be devised to win the needed series of approvals required by the town’s comprehensive municipal improvement process, not just from the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education, but also the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and ultimately the Representative Town Meeting.

“It’s trying to fit a much larger building, transportation issues, and playgrounds on a site that is small,” Walko said of the challenge now before his committee. “We’ll sharpen our pencils and come back.”

Walko added that despite this setback, he feels the committee can keep the process on track to meet a September 2018 opening for the new school. Currently, New Lebanon School has acute space issues projected to become more severe next year.

“It’s important that Byram and the town of Greenwich understands that this is a big school,” Walko said. “This is a big change. New Lebanon parents should rest assured that they have an excellent government working towards build a better environment for the children. This is part of the process, and we simply need to move forward.”

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