Darien school community 'beyond excited' for renovations, elimination of portables

DARIEN — The school district plans to upgrade three elementary schools and remove portable classrooms at Holmes, Hindley and Royle schools, the Board of Education said at a public hearing last week.

Parents have previously been critical of how long the portable classrooms have been in service at the schools, which they said were not intended to be long term.

During last fall’s contested BOE campaign, the removal of portables was a critical point of discussion by the candidates.

The priorities for the construction, as outlined in the presentation from Northeast Collaborative Architects, include the removal of portables, enhancements to the libraries and media centers to create a “learning commons,” develop ed specs to enhance the use of the space, and incorporate long-range capital projects.

Several circumstances have made these steps possible now, according to the presenter, including quality facility maintenance, sustained enrollment projects, commitment of the administration and staff of the school, and the use of existing sites.

Currently there are 24 classrooms at both Hindley and Holmes schools and 22 at Royle.

At Hindley School, renovations include a plan to add music rooms, learning commons and two classrooms. Hindley’s current Developmental Learning Center, one of the three in the schools, will move to join the other two at the new Ox Ridge School.

The DLC programs are designed to support students with autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays. The expansion would add 10,300 square feet, with 3,000 square feet demolished and 3,300 removed.

Holmes School would also get an additional two classrooms, with music, specialized spaces and a renovation to create a learning commons. An additional 7,500 square feet will be built, with the removal of 1,700 square feet.

Royle School will also add music classrooms, learning commons and an additional four classrooms. Royle’s Early Learning Program will move to the new Ox Ridge School.

The estimated cost for the Hindley renovations is projected to be between $21 million and $23 million; between $15 million and 17 million for Holmes; and between $19 million and $20 million for Royle.

Courtney Pare, who spoke in support of the project, said her son had several injuries over his time at Royle and the elevator and portables made it challenging.

“We love Royle School, but its time to upgrade the building,” she said.

Belinda Fang, co-chairman of the Hindley Parent Teacher Organization, said students are “exposed to the elements, no bathrooms and sinks, not enough room, and too much security and weather exposure.”

Speaking on behalf of her co-chairman Joanna Walsh, she said eliminating portables will create a more inclusive school community space.

Angela Boyle Altoe said when she moved to Darien five years ago and her son started kindergarten, she was “shocked” that the schools were using portables.

“In a town such as this with the resources we have, its astonishing we have these 30-year-old portables still in use,” she said.

Julie Best, co-chairman of Council of Darien School Parents, said she was “beyond excited” for the removal of portables and renovations.

Best said the council has been asking for the removal of portables for “lots and lots and lots of years.” She also urged the district and the board to keep taxpayers and school parents informed.

The next steps will play out over the next few months, with the BOE receiving the ed specs of the projects. The school board also intends to request that the Board of Selectmen form a citizen’s building committee.