Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
It's possible that school officials won't get a chance to make a pitch to planning commissioners when they consider the proposed placement of two new K-8 schools Wednesday, but they've covered their bases with a specially prepared booklet touting the sites.
A written presentation – in case no oral arguments will be heard – complete with six full-color fold-out maps was given to every planning commissioner in advance of the meeting, according to Steve Devaux, the district's business manager.
The maps and presentation handbook by the Cheshire engineering and landscaping firm Milone & MacBroom are general, according to Devaux.
"They're not seeing sanitary sewer lines," he said. "They're not seeing traffic counts."
And, Devaux said, speaking to school building committee members Monday night about the crucial upcoming planning board meeting, no one is going to discuss the merits of a K-8 system or any other educational theory on Wednesday.
What is included in Milone & MacBroom's spiral-bound booklet are eight pages of text outlining the school district's position as far as the selection of the sites for the two proposed schools and the planning commission's role.
The planning board must determine whether to recommend for or against the site locations – an expanded version of the current Greene-Hills School and the former Scalia sand pit off Barlow Street.
City councilors overwhelmingly approved the Greene-Hills site, but split in a narrow 4-3 vote on the Scalia property, making the planning board's vote crucial. If planning commissioners recommend against the locations, it will take a two-thirds council vote to override it.
The Milone & MacBroom document describes the Scalia parcel as having "fairly gentle" topography in the center of the property but having "steep slopes" on three sides that cannot be used for building.
The 14 acres of steep slopes make up more than a third of the property, leaving 61 percent available for the school building, parking lot, playing fields and playground at the bottom of the slopes.
Milone & MacBroom suggested that the slopes would be useful as a buffer between the school and the neighborhood, which would be elevated high above the school.
Devaux and Superintendent Phil Streifer will attend the planning meeting, said Devaux, to answer questions if the commissioners ask any. He said Streifer wants everyone on the school building committees to attend the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall on Wednesday "to show the planning commission support that we have for the project."
Devaux said he tried to learn what to expect from the meeting.
"We don't anticipate that there will be any public participation," said Devaux. He also said he didn't expect that the board would take a vote on the matter until its October meeting.
School board member Tom O'Brien, who serves on the building committee, deflected a question about why the planning board was brought in so late in the game.
They didn't have the power to bring their proposal to the planning board, O'Brien said, only city councilors did. He said there wasn't any point to raising the issue with planners until they had decided on a site.
"They don't give advisory rulings," O'Brien said.
If it is to move forward, the project would eventually have to pass through all the land use boards, Devaux said.
Though the city has reached an agreement with car dealer Ken Crowley for his property on Pine Street, O'Brien said they may also need the convenience store next to the school.
"There is that possibility in the future," said O'Brien.
The city has not agreed on a purchase price for the former Scalia sand pit, which could be acquired through the use of eminent domain. The Scalia family apparently does not want to sell the property.
The planning board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in public session. Commissioners have not said whether they will make a decision that night or wait until their next meeting, and they have not made it clear whether public comments will be allowed.
Meanwhile, officials are moving forward with the selection of an architect for the school project, according to Roger Rousseau, the city's purchasing agent.
Next week, architectural firms will be interviewed, said Rousseau, and committee members will narrow it down to four firms.
Then, Rousseau said, committee members will determine the scope of the services desired from the architectural firms and solicit bids from the four finalists.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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