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Greenwich Country Day outlines changes at Stanwich as part of merger

March 26, 2019

GREENWICH — It was late on a school night, but the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission got a look at plans for Greenwich Country Day School to expand its presence in town.

The private school plans to open a high school in the fall, merging with the Stanwich School and taking over its property at 257 Stanwich Road. Kindergarten through eighth grade will remain at Country Day’s campus at 401 Old Church Road. Grades 9 through 12 will be at the Stanwich property.

Country Day headmaster Adam Rohdie outlined the plans as part of a lengthy hearing last week that lasted until after midnight. No decision was made, and the application remains open.

“In our 92-year history, for probably 91 of those years, we’ve been contemplating the idea of having a high school,” Rohdie said. “In my 15 years as head of Country Day, we’ve walked six different pieces of property to explore the possibility of having a high school. … I think this makes sense for both the town of Greenwich and for our school and for Stanwich as well.”

Stanwich School, which offers pre-K through 12th grade, will operate on the property until the end of the school year, at which point it will become part of Country Day.

“This will only be a high school — it will not be a full K through 12 operation,” Bruce Cohen, the attorney for Country Day and Stanwich, told the commission. “Consequently, the spaces are going to be different. The architecture is going to be different. The facilities are going to be different.”

According to the plans, the north wing of the Stanwich classroom building would be demolished and a new arts quad would be built. The plans also call for additions to the classroom building for more educational space, a kitchen and a performing arts center.

As a result of the merger, Cohen said the school’s agreement with the town for a maximum cap of students can be lowered to 550. Currently, there is a cap of 750 students for Stanwich on the property.

There are currently 900 students at Greenwich Country Day, but Rhodie said they expect 450 students as the campus transitions into just a high school.

“That’s really the ideal size,” he said. “It’s big enough to have a varsity football team, but small enough for the headmaster to know when you didn’t do your homework. That’s the goal. We don’t think the school would grow larger than that.”

The applications so far are “off the charts,” Rhodie said. They have received 135 applications, including 60 from students currently at Country Day. He expects to enroll 100 ninth-graders, about 40 in the 10th grade, 12 in 11th grade and 12 in 12th grade. That will allow the school to start small and add kids in each grade in the future, aiming for a 450-student high school campus.

To lessen the traffic impact, Rhodie said the school may stagger pickup and drop-off times at both campuses. A shuttle will likely take students back and forth between the campuses — so parents with kids at different campuses would only have to do pickup and drop-off at one.

Students with licenses would be able to drive to the Stanwich Road campus, but Rhodie said it is a closed campus and they would not be allowed to leave during the day. Additionally, he said all sports teams would travel by bus with players not leaving individually.

Traffic in the area is expected to be scrutinized before any decisions are made. Commission Acting Chair Margarita Alban said she was concerned there was not enough busing in the plans and too much student driving and parent drop-off and pickup. She called that traffic scenario “a nightmare for everyone.”

The commission’s goal is to ease traffic in neighborhoods with schools and create a more environmentally sustainable transportation plan, Alban said. Rohdie pointed to the school’s record with environmental health, saying “we are leading the league” in taking steps to be more green and sustainable.

A greater focus on busing is needed in the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development as an overarching concern for the town, Alban said.

One neighbor attended last week’s late-night discussion. Janet McMahon, speaking on behalf of residents of District 8 on the Representative Town Meeting, offered concerns about the blasting, calling it invasive. She said neighbors are also worried about the student drivers.

“I think that will make congestion even worse,” McMahon said. “Stanwich Road is not built for the addition of 200 drivers. Even if they’re just driving one way in and one way out, they’re going to be driving on extremely narrow roads and it’s already a bottleneck.”

Alban responded by saying, “We’re very concerned about the bottlenecks” with North Street School, Central Middle School and Greenwich Catholic School all located nearby.

Public testimony will continue, and more neighbors are expected to speak out and send in letters to the commission on the plan.

It is unclear when the Greenwich Country Day School plan will return to the commission. It is not on the tentative agenda for the next meeting April 2, and town Director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca could not be reached for comment Monday.

Alban, citing the commission’s recent experience with Greenwich Academy’s plan to move its preschool and day care center, suggested that the commission take a walking tour of the area. No exact date was set and the school is on spring break this week, but Rohdie told the commission the school would be “happy to have you” visit.

When the new upper school opens in the fall, former Greenwich High School Headmaster Christopher Winters will be in charge.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com