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P&Z Approves Sandy Hook School Project

Following an hourlong public hearing on July 31, Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members unanimously approved redevelopment plans for the proposed new Sandy Hook Elementary School at 12 Dickinson Drive, off Riverside Road.

The new school would replace the former Sandy Hook School, which the town demolished last year following the December 2012 massacre there.

The P&Z’s zoning approval marks a major local hurdle for the construction project.

On July 28, the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) approved a wetlands/watercourses protection permit for the project.

On July 9, the Aquifer Protection Agency (APA) issued a “finding of no significant impact” in terms of the project’s effect on the underlying Pootatuck Aquifer, a major underground source of potable water.

Plans for the school project are still subject to review and approval by state officials.

As the public hearing began, P&Z Chairman Robert Mulholland noted that the school application from the town’s Public Building and Site Commission (PBSC) is unusual in that the project’s design had been reviewed by many other town officials before it arrived at the P&Z.

“This [proposal] has been going on with the town for quite a while,” he said.

PBSC Chairman Robert Mitchell told P&Z members that PBSC members are “very happy” with the plans for the school project.

Civil engineer Raymond Gradwell of BL Companies of Meriden described the engineering aspects of the project to P&Z members.

Landscape architect Bill Richter of Richter & Cegan of Avon explained site planning.

Architect Julia McFadden of Svigals + Partners of New Haven described the architectural features of the school project.

Mr Richter said that the project’s design will provide “a new view of the site” as people approach the property in vehicles from a different angle than they had in the past. Mr Richter explained how school buses would travel on the property.

Visual screening would be created at the site for the benefit of people at abutting properties, he said. Emergency access to the site would be provided at the rear via Crestwood Drive, he said.

Also, the project’s traffic-flow design would provide improved access from Riverside Road, he said.

 Mr Bradwell discussed planned pavement at the school property as well as traffic signage.

“The stormwater management system is very complex,” he noted, adding that the project meets applicable state environmental requirements.

Ms McFadden explained that the school’s design would provide outdoor rear courtyard areas intended for instruction.

P&Z member Michael Porco, Sr, complimented the school project’s planners, noting that they had provided very much detail about the construction plans.

Mr Porco noted that after the school opens, there likely would be many people headed to various events to be held in the school’s gymnasium.

“It seems there’s not enough space at the gymnasium,” he said, in asking whether such facilities should be larger.

Ms McFadden responded that project planners have discussed the matter with school officials and those officials believe the proposed design is suitable.

A planned “raised area” situated between the gym and the cafeteria would provide a vantage point for spectators, Ms McFadden noted.

Ms McFadden added that the project’s designers wanted to stay within the project’s spending limits and also provide an amount of spectator space which is consistent with such space in similar local schools.

Mr Mulholland raised some questions about the lighting plans for the school’s exterior areas. He also asked about the “bioswale” planned for the area in front of the school’s façade, posing questions about the feature’s maintenance requirements. The landscaping element, which is shallow drainage course, will include a variety of plantings.

Mr Richter said the bioswale would contain a variety of perennial plants. He said he expects that volunteer groups would be interested in maintaining the bioswale’s vegetation.

Mr Mulholland said he hopes the bioswale receives suitable maintenance.

During the public comment section of the July 31 public hearing, only one person spoke.

Gene Rosen of Sandy Hook told P&Z members that he is appreciative and grateful for the amount of effort that has gone into the planning for the new Sandy Hook School.

In their motion to approve the school project, P&Z members concurred that the application meets the requirements for a special permit and also complies with the purpose and intent of the 2014 Town Plan of Conservation and Development. The approval becomes effective on August 11.

Overall, 13.5 acres of terrain would be modified at the Dickinson Drive site.

Earthmoving at the site would involve 32,000 cubic yards of cutting and 24,000 cubic yards of filling.

The proposed 87,160-square-foot school would have facilities for children from prekindergarten to grade 4 within 23 classrooms and other school facilities. There would be parking for 150 vehicles.

The school construction project may start sometime this fall.

Last October, town voters approved spending more than $49 million in the form of a state grant designated for the demolition of the former school and the design and construction of the new school.

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