Fitch Academy is expected to open for the new school year not even a block away from Darien Library, although the alternative high school program may be at the library for a little while after school starts, a school district officials say.
The building, 6 Thorndal Circle, is the one everyone sees when they park in the library parking lot, and students in the program will be dropped off by a bus in the same parking lot as last year — in fact, they’ll have a shorter walk to their new classrooms, which will be on the second floor in the part of the building nearest Darien Police Headquarters, Michael Lynch, the school district’s director of facilities, said Tuesday to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“We anticipate being in that building by the opening of school,” Acting Superintendent Elliott Landon told the Board of Education a little earlier on Tuesday night. “But if not, we will be permitted to stay in the library until it is ready, and then we’re confident that that will be a short time after the opening of school.”
Darien Library had hosted the school program in its Teen Library room for the first school year, but wanted to get the room back, permanently, when the school year ended in June.
After an initial agreement fell through that would have located the program in a commercial building a little way down the Post Road from the library (across from Spring Grove Cemetery), school district officials came to an agreement with the Nielsen Company, which owns the Thorndal Circle office complex and is headed by former Selectman Jerry Nielsen.
The only problem preventing Fitch Academy from starting in Thorndal Circle on time is a state requirement that a sprinkler system of a certain standard be operational in the building by the time students return to school. That project may not be done before the first day of school, Lynch told the P&Z Commission.
Lynch spoke to the commission in order to get approval for the district’s site plan, which appears to be almost entirely a formality, P&Z officials indicated: Since no outdoor changes are being made and impacts on traffic are even less than would be the case if the space were rented to the businesses that Thorndal Circle buildings were constructed to house, the Fitch Academy move is not expected to be a change that the commission would concern itself with.
Town fire inspectors can be expected to look over the sprinkler system, once installed, and issue a permit if it appears to be in order.
In documents submitted to the P&Z Commission, Lynch said Fitch Academy will start the school year with 15 to 20 students, an expansion from the dozen or so who started last year.
“We anticipate growing the program to 24 students and are committed to never exceeding 30. The program will have the equivalent of four full-time staff members who will rotate in and out of the program.”
High school seniors who have the permission of the program staff and their parents may drive to school, and they’ll use a parking lot off of Thorndal Circle. “Most students will be transported by a district-provided van or minibus, while others will be driven by their parents, much the same as what occurs at DHS [Darien High School],” Lynch wrote.
Staff will arrive at roughly 7 a.m. and usually leave at 4 p.m., he said. Fitch Academy follows the school district calendar and Darien High School opening and closing times, 7:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.
The lease with Thorndal Circle is for five years. The school district is renting out a 3,253-square-foot space taking up the corner of the second floor closest to Police Headquarters that includes a large central space for a classroom, other side rooms and a kitchenette. (The Thorndal Circle building complex has a total of 177,402 square feet on a site of slightly more than four acres, according to the application to the P&Z Commission.)
The second-floor space doesn’t include the entire north end of the building. Another, smaller space on the other corner of that end of the building is rented by or available for rental by a different tenant that takes up about half the space that Fitch Academy will be in.
Building security for the program will be provided with a card-swipe-access device, the same used in Darien public schools.