Update: Modern Schools for a Growing City

Update: Modern Schools for a Growing City
Posted on 01/27/2017
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With aging school facilities and a growing student population, Norwalk Public Schools and the Board of Education have been engaged in an extensive process to determine how best to support the city’s families in the years to come.

The process began in January 2015, when the Board first approved a detailed, expert analysis of our school buildings and demographic trends. It continued through all of 2016, with options for expanding Norwalk schools discussed at meetings of the Board of Ed Facilities Committee, in parent and community forums, at PTO meetings, via a public survey, and finally, at a Board of Education workshop meeting in December. 

Schools to Match a Growing City

Last week, the Board of Education approved recommendations for Phase I of a long-term School Facilities Master Plan. The “Modern Schools for a Growing City” proposal is a comprehensive plan that would add 900 much-needed student seats. It will provide a school in South Norwalk where the need is greatest, reducing long bus rides for many students. It will offer robust academic programs in new and renovated buildings, with attractive academic themes and magnet programs designed to draw students from throughout the district.

The approved School Facilities Master Plan is also aligned to the district’s Strategic Operating Plan, which is designed to raise student performance and lower the achievement gap. The plan advances four of the six goals outlined in the Strategic Plan, especially Goal 3, which seeks to increase parent choice, and Goal 5, which commits to safe and attractive schools for all students.

Plan Highlights

Most importantly, the Facilities Plan leverages the need to build additional schools and renovate others to elevate our education system. New programs will provide academic opportunities not currently available in Norwalk. Highlights from Phase I of the plan include:

  • Moving Columbus Magnet School into a newly constructed PreK to Grade 8 campus at the site of the former Nathaniel Ely School in South Norwalk (current Odyssey Preschool remains in place.)
  • Renovating “as new” the current Columbus Magnet School building to house a K-5 intradistrct magnet school offering an International Baccalaureate Early Years Programme.
  • Expanding Ponus Ridge into a full PreK to Grade 8 magnet campus with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) theme. 

Phase I is estimated to take 3 to 5 years to complete. Anticipated projects for Phase II include renovating “as new” Jefferson Elementary and removing the 10 existing portable classrooms there. Renovations at Roton Middle School and Norwalk High School are also expected to be included in Phase II of the plan. For more details on each recommendations, see the Summary of Facilities Recommendations in the December 20 presentation.

Actions Needed by June 30, 2017

With the Board of Ed’s approval, the recommendations now move into the City of Norwalk’s capital budget process, which includes meetings of several committees and the Common Council. (See sidebar for dates of key meetings and public hearings.)

While the City is working on the funding request, the Board of Ed will name “Ed Spec” committees for the Nathaniel Ely and Ponus Ridge projects. Ed Spec Committees determine the educational specifications needed to support the academic theme or magnet school requirements of each proposed school. Ed Specs also provide direction on what to include in the final design for each building.

Ed Specs are also required by the State of Connecticut for any district that requests reimbursement for school construction projects. As a result, preparation of Educational Specifications follow standards set by the State.  

Because the State has a June 30 deadline for districts to submit projects for reimbursement, it’s critical that both approval for local funding and the Education Specifications be put in place over the next few months. Missing the June 30 deadline would meant that school building and renovation projects would be delayed for another year.

2017-18 and Beyond

Once funding is committed and education specifications are confirmed, planning and preparation would begin in 2017-18. Architects will be hired and designs prepared that reflect each school’s theme and academic needs. Construction would be expected to begin the following year for the first two sites, at Nathaniel Ely and Ponus Ridge. Design work on the current Columbus school site on Concord Street would start in 2018-19. 

At the same time, planning committees would be formed that include parents and other members of the community. The planning committee for each school would be charged with making recommendations for that school’s unique culture and operational characteristics. Topics for discussion could include what rituals and routines the school will follow; whether parent participation will be required; what business or civic organizations would be good partners; whether multi-year or single grade classrooms would be preferred; and more.

Our Journey Towards Excellence

It’s an exciting time to be part of Norwalk Public Schools!  We have an ambitious Strategic Operating Plan in place, and now, recommendations for a long-term plan to provide modern schools to match our growing city. While much work remains to be done, our journey towards becoming “The Most Successful City School System in Connecticut” is well underway!

 January & February Public Hearings & Meetings

All meetings are at Norwalk City Hall, 125 East Avenue. Meetings are subject to change; check NPS and City of Norwalk websites for any updates.

Capital Budget Discussions, including School Facilities Master Plan

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 7 pm., Community Room

City of Norwalk Planning Commission, Public Hearing on Capital Budget

Discussion of NPS Recommended Operating Budget

Tuesday, Jan. 31, 7 pm, Common Council Chambers

Joint Board of Education and Common Council Meeting

Tuesday, Feb. 28, 7:30 pm Common Council Chambers

Common Council Meeting to Set 2017-18 Operating Budget Cap

Board of Education Meetings

Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7 pm, Room A300

BOE Workshop Meeting

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 7 pm, Common Council Chambers

BOE Business Meeting

For a list of Board of Education Committee Meetings, check the BOE pages of the website: Norwalk Board of Education Calendar.

NPS Facts & Figures

  • NPS had 11,393 students as of Oct. 31, 2016.
  • Norwalk’s school buildings are currently at 110% capacity.
  • NPS has 15 portable “modular” trailers in use as classrooms due to growing enrollment.
  • While school enrollment is declining in many Connecticut cities and towns, Norwalk is one of the few that expects to see more students over the next 5 to 10 years. 
  • Norwalk’s oldest schools were constructed in 1938.  
  • While additions and major maintenance projects have taken place, Norwalk hasn’t built a completely new school since 1971.  
  • Brien McMahon High School is an example of a school that was “renovated-as-new” (in 2006).