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Wednesday, May 23 News

Fate of proposed new Ox Ridge school goes to selectmen

DARIEN — A proposal to build a new Ox Ridge Elementary School will next go to the Board of Selectmen, who will decide whether a building committee should be formed.

“We’re dealing with a failing school and we’re in a triage situation,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Tara Ochmann, of the school, which was built in 1966.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to allow the school board chairwoman and superintendent of schools to request the building committee, and unanimously endorsed the school administration’s recommendation to undertake the most extensive of three options for the future of the building.

The vote comes two weeks after a public hearing at which parents expressed a desire to build the school bigger, increasing capacity, removing portable classrooms and potentially centralizing the district’s Early Learning Program.It’s estimated it would cost the district $50 million.

The two other proposals from the board suggested less extreme changes. The first, at an estimated $25 million, would have seen the existing building renovated without any expansion. A second proposal, at an estimated $40 million, would have included a full renovation and the building of a new wing at the back of the building.

Neither received board or resident support.

Assuming the Board of Selectmen approves the request and creates a building committee, the Board of Education said it would continue to discuss solutions for other elementary schools in the district that need improvements.

I think that’s clear that Ox Ridge is the one that needs the most attention at this point, but I think it’s also beholden to us to help the public understand, I think the first question if you’re not in the Ox Ridge district is, ‘What about my school? When is my school going to get done?’ ” Maroney said, citing public comment he had received.

“Once this has cleared the deck, the facilities committee will then reconvene and start moving toward what else needs to be done,” said vice chairwoman and Facilities Committee member Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross.

Board member Christa MacNamara said because of the potential rebuild, stress on other elementary schools in the district could be alleviated, specifically by moving the ELP away from Royle and Tokeneke elementary schools, where it is partially hosted.

In addition to centralizing the ELP, the new building would have 25 classrooms and would eliminate the four existing modular classrooms. The current student population at Ox Ridge is 451 and the school has 24 general education and four modular classrooms.

“This is not pitting one school against the other. This is a prioritization of needs,” Ochmann said.

Justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586

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