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Weston Public Schools: North House decision is postponed

North House at Hurlbutt Elementary School.

North House at Hurlbutt Elementary School.

The Weston Board of Education is not going to vote on the status of North House — whether to hand over part of it to the town for municipal use — at its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Nov. 19.

Due to the time crunch caused by storm Sandy, Superintendent Colleen Palmer said school officials want to give people more time to hear about the proposal for North House and weigh in with their opinions.

The public can learn more about North House at a “Coffee with the Superintendent” this Saturday, Nov. 17, at 9 a.m. at the Weston Intermediate School. The school board will also discuss North House at its regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m., in the Community Room at the Weston Public Library.

Dr. Palmer also advised the public to send any questions about North House to her at sblog@westonps.org and she will address them at the school board meeting and on her blog on the school’s website, westonps.org.

The Board of Selectmen was initially going to discuss North House at its meeting meeting on Monday, but the item was deleted from the agenda in light of the school board’s decision not to vote on the matter until its December meeting.

“It is school property and the selectmen are not making any decisions until the schools decide what they are going to do,” First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said Thursday.

Declining enrollment

The issue under consideration is what to do with extra space in the Weston schools in light of declining enrollment projections.

At a joint meeting of the boards of selectmen, finance, and education on Oct. 10, Dr. Palmer said it made the most sense to turn over the first floor space at North House to the town for its use.

The second floor of North House would remain with the school, but could be re-allocated in the future.

Dr. Palmer told the Hurblutt PTO this week that unlike the three other schools in the district, Hurlbutt was built in phases and sections so it makes sense to allocate space from Hurlbutt to the town rather than from the other schools.

Ms. Weinstein told the PTO the town would move the Senior Activities Center from the South House of Hurlbutt, where it is located now, to North House. This is a move Dr. Palmer supports because the school would like to use South House, which was designed specifically for small children, while North House is better suited to older grades.

Hurlbutt currently houses grades pre-K through two.

The town could also relocate some of its offices — such as Parks and Recreation, Children and Youth Services, and the land use department — to North House, but no final decision has been made about that proposal.

“Nothing is finalized yet. It still has not been fully vetted with the Board of Selectmen,” Ms. Weinstein said.

In order to protect the safety and integrity of the school, Dr. Palmer said a memorandum of understanding (MOU) would be entered into with the town about the use of North House. Should the schools need to take the space back because of increased enrollment, Dr. Palmer said that would be part of the memorandum. “Nothing will erode the quality of the curriculum or education,” Dr. Palmer said.

Senior Center

A few years ago, the schools agreed to give up space in South House for the town to establish a Senior Center. What was originally one room for seniors, has since expanded to three classrooms and partial use of a multi-purpose room, for a total of 2,100 square feet.

At North House, the Senior Center would also get 2,100 square feet of space, but unlike the multi-purpose room in South House, which was shared with the school, the center would get a full 2,100 square feet for its sole use.

A separate parking lot would be constructed for the Senior Center at North House, freeing up spaces currently designated for the center at South House.

Because North House has separate outside entrances, it can be closed off so there won’t be direct access from it to the main school building.

When a parent asked about the possibility of relocating the district’s central offices to North House instead of putting town offices there, Dr. Palmer said that would not be considered unless the second floor of North House was vacated, which at this time it isn’t.

No decision has been made about the status of the playground next to North House.

Parental input

Parents at the PTO meeting said they have concerns about the future plans for North House and they hope their input will be part of the school board’s discussion and decisions.

Hurlbutt parent Melissa Chesman said parents do not begrudge seniors the opportunity to have space in North House. However, if parts of North House are being considered for other community ventures she believes the discussion with the community should take place now.

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