The Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing Thursday evening on the proposed construction of a permanent magnet school at 1617 King St. A small group of residents turned out for the hearing, but most of the discussion took place between the commissioners and officials of the school.
The proposed school would replace the current temporary Public Safety Academy located on Post Office Road. That facility has been operating since 2008 and has 390 students currently enrolled, with 68 coming from Enfield.
The new facility would cost $66 million according to Capital Region Education Council (CREC) official Donald Walsh. The entire cost would be funded by the State of Connecticut. CREC currently operates 15 magnet schools in the State and plans are underway for the construction of an additional seven.
“There is no local share of construction cost that Enfield will bear,” Walsh said.
The new school plans to serve 720 students in grades 6-12. Operation of the school would provide 70-80 jobs between teachers, support staff, and administrators.
“The project is designed to be a good neighbor,” Walsh said, “there is no reason for it not to be. There is no profit motive here.”
Walsh also said CREC has worked very closely with the Enfield Public Schools regarding the plans for the new school, and expressed his desire to continue to work with the local schools.
“Our aim is to make our education program complementary to Enfield in every possible way. We also plan to make our professional development available to Enfield teachers.”
The focus of the Public Safety Academy is a preparation for a career in Public Safety or Emergency Medical Services.
“PSA offers its students a unique blend of programming that prepares them for post-secondary education as well as entry into a Public Safety career of their choosing,” said Principal Ryan Donlon.
In addition to the specialized curriculum, Donlon said students would be provided a well rounded education with opportunities in technology, fine arts, Spanish, and extensive physical fitness programs. The school has a partnership with the University of New Haven, allowing students to earn college credit in high school.
Commissioners Lori Longhi and Charles Ladd expressed concern about the number of parking spaces available for student parking. Officials said that some 50-60 spaces would be available for student drivers and they anticipate no more than 15-20 student drivers. Other magnet schools use administrative methods including parking passes to account for student drivers.
“Magnet schools typically have fewer drivers because of the distances that the children travel, they typically come on the bus instead of driving,” Donlon said.
The sole comment from the public came from Barbara Bracci, a resident of Pheasant Hill Rd. She stated her opposition to the project and cited concerns about noise, safety, and snow removal. She also had questions about the distance from her home where construction would occur.
“We all take pride in our homes. We used to have a large forest in the back. We don't have that anymore,” she said. Though she still maintained she did not want a school in her back yard, fears of the proximity of the construction were allayed by a better explanation of the site plan.
The public hearing remained open, and will be continued at the October 20, 2011 meeting of the commission. Commissioners asked for clarification on Fire safety issues, samples of building materials, and greater clarity other parts of the plan.