School Plans for Cove Island Park Spark Outrage in Stamford

Stamford residents came out loud and clear against a proposal to build a school in Cove Island Park on Long Island Sound. City officials have since dropped Cove Island from consideration as a site for the new school because of environmental concerns.

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STAMFORD – It was only a possibility, but it incited instantaneous protest.

As soon as people heard that the city was considering building a school in Cove Island Park, they began calling their neighborhood associations. They emailed city officials. They signed up to speak at the Board of Representatives’ February meeting.

Don’t do it, the people said. Don’t even think about it.

Marcia Kosstrin told representatives that she was “just astounded” when she heard the city might build a K-8 school for 1,050 students on Cove Island, a much-loved waterfront park. The proposal is part of a Board of Education master plan, announced last week, to repair, rebuild or replace Stamford’s aging school buildings.

“Our public parks are sacred. We have so little open space in Stamford,” Kosstrin told representatives during the Feb. 7 Zoom meeting. 

“I vehemently oppose that there is even any consideration given to studying this proposal,” Mary Russo told the board.

“It would be an absolute travesty,” said another resident, Danette Melchionne.

In fact, “don’t consider using any city park for a school,” Becky Collins told representatives.

The master plan, now a draft, is to close Dolan and Cloonan middle schools, and Toquam and K.T. Murphy elementary schools. Westhill High School would be rebuilt, and Turn of River middle school would be expanded.

Westover Magnet Elementary, which just underwent a major renovation to control water leaks that caused mold growth throughout the building, would be expanded from a K-5 school to a K-8. So would Roxbury Elementary. Hart Magnet Elementary, now K-5, would be rebuilt as a K-8 school on the site of Cloonan Middle, a block away, once Cloonan is torn down. 

A Lockwood Avenue school building would be rebuilt to accommodate 650 preschoolers, and the remaining school buildings would be repaired as needed. 

It all would cost about $670 million and take 12 years to complete.

But the aspect of the plan that set off the alarm was building a school in Cove Island Park. Education officials say Stamford needs a school south of Interstate-95 because that is where many students live. The plan is to make it an interdistrict magnet school so it would qualify for more state funding. It would house 850 Stamford students and 200 from other towns.

Cove Island was under consideration because it is “in an ideal spot” and the city already owns it, Superintendent Tamu Lucero said during the Feb. 3 meeting at which the school board’s consultant, SLAM Collaborative, presented the master plan.

City Rep. Megan Cottrell, a Democrat from the Cove neighborhood, warned them what was coming.

“People are very, very passionate about this park. They don’t want you to cut down a tree,” let alone put up a school, Cottrell said. “You have to understand that many people don’t have yards where they live, and Cove Island is their yard. I’m not sure this is a fight you want to have.”

The 83-acre Cove Island Park is one of a handful of places in Stamford that allows public access to Long Island Sound – for people and for migratory birds, which can’t survive their travels without a safe place to rest and feed. 

Educators with the Audubon Society told city representatives the park has a large concentration of migratory birds, and nearly 300 species have been identified there in the last 15 years, including three that are endangered. There is no other such habitat in Stamford, and they are rare along the Connecticut coast, educators said.

Nathaniel Wallman, who lives near the park, offered representatives a tour.

“There’s a chance you will see terns, egrets, herons, owls, hawks, falcons, perhaps a bald eagle,” Wallman said. “Cove Island is an enchanted place.”

Less than a week after the proposal was publicly floated, the city dropped Cove Island from consideration. Officials withdraw a request to the Board of Representatives for $150,000 to cover the cost of a state application for funding for a new school south of I-95, plus one other project.

Lauren Meyer, spokeswoman for Mayor Caroline Simmons, said Friday that Cove Island was deemed not viable because of environmental concerns.

The city Charter does not prohibit building something in a public park, Meyer said, but it does impose restrictions. The Charter states that, if the city takes park land for a different purpose, it “shall provide comparable replacement land at least equal in value” and size.

In a memo to the Board of Representatives, Operations Director Matt Quinones said two other parks south of I-95, Cummings and Czescik, also were deemed not viable as sites for the new school. The city is searching for a site and will consider private and public land, Quinones wrote. SLAM Collaborative will seek public comment and post a survey on the Board of Education’s website. The consultant is planning a series of public meetings on the school master plan for later this month and early next month.

Check www.stamfordpublicschools.org


Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 733-6811

a.carella@ctexaminer.com