A new New Lebanon

FI-EditorialIt is hoped that this week’s forum is a sign of things to come in Byram and that all residents and town officials will rally around a plan for the New Lebanon School.

A drawn-out fight between options with different sides in Byram fighting over what’s best for the community would have been extremely unproductive and would have resulted only in delays and lingering hard feelings. Not only do Superintendent of Schools William McKersie and the Board of Education deserve credit for seeking another option, but project architect Peter Gisolfi and his team worked hard to take community concerns into account and come up with a new plan, one that promises a new school building but also has less of an impact on the community green.

There’s never going to be a “perfect” plan that addresses every single concern in the most convenient and least expensive way. That’s true with every construction project. There always has to be compromise between what people want and what they can realistically have. So it was extremely encouraging to see the community rally around what is unofficially known as “scheme C” in this proposed design for what can be done to help New Lebanon School.

The proposal allows for a new school to be built, over to the east of the current building so that the current athletic field and a lot of the woodlands there would not be impacted. It was introduced at a community forum on Monday night to discuss the project and often these events lead to a lot of angry parents, but this one was smooth from the start, allowing for the new proposal to be introduced in response to community concerns, and the people in attendance seemed eager to all get on the same page and rally around the twin themes of a thriving village green and, most importantly, a new New Lebanon School.

There’s still a lot to do before this proposal becomes official. That point was made at the forum by Dr. McKersie and Mr. Gisolfi. But it’s also important that steps be taken promptly. This is not a situation that will be made any better by waiting. The school is simply too small. There’s a reason why kindergartners were moved to a nearby building, and it’s unacceptable in Greenwich (or really anywhere) that there be instructional space in a closet. The time has come for the Board of Education to take forward steps and for the town to back it up.

That means the Board of Estimate and Taxation needs to get behind this project. Already there are indications that many members are extra focused on the bottom line above all in next year’s budget, an attitude that continues to lead to crumbling infrastructure and outdated facilities.

While there will no doubt be much debate about what form this project will take and how much it will cost (fortunately the state seems prepared to pick up a huge amount of the tab), what is not up for debate is how badly needed this project is. The board must learn from past lessons at Hamilton Avenue School and Glenville School about not waiting too long. The parents who say this is what Byram students deserve are right on the money.

Leaving aside the need to have racial balance and allowing the magnet program to work, the kids of New Lebanon School deserve at the very least a school with enough space for them. But beyond that they deserve the same state-of-the-art facilities others enjoy to allow them to achieve to the best of their abilities.

A vote is looming next month, the first of many, and it’s time to rally around an idea and push for it. Action is needed.

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