EAST LYME — A private special education school plans to move its operations to a new location in Niantic in anticipation of an increase in student population.
On Thursday, the East Lyme Zoning Commission unanimously approved an application from The Light House Voc-Ed Center, Inc. for a special permit to move its operations to a large office building on 15 Liberty Way. The school, which provides services to children and young adults ages 5-22 with intellectual and developmental disabilities, currently has two campuses located in downtown Niantic, one on Pennsylvania Avenue and one on Main Street.
Kassidy Brown, CEO of The Light House, told CT Examiner the 24,000-square foot, three-story building would be ideal because of its proximity to the local employers where some of the students hold jobs, as well as Interstate I-95. He said the building is also close to some of the students’ activities in the community, such as swimming, sailing and yoga.
“I think we would be a great neighbor, as we have been to the downtown community for a number of years,” said Brown.
The Light House plans to seek approval from the State Department of Education to increase the total number of students it can accept from 30 to 40, according to the special permit application. Brown told CT Examiner that the school expects to increase its number of students as more and more children are in need of services that the local districts aren’t able to provide on site.
“There’s been increased demand over the past couple of years … mostly due to different disruptions created by the pandemic and the district’s ability to provide the support to the broad range of students and profiles that they’re receiving in their districts,” said Brown.
Brown said that the building will include individual classrooms, common areas, a life skills kitchen, music room, art room, sensory room and an open classroom. He said there was relatively little that would need to be done to the property in order for the school to be able to function there.
The school will also be requesting approval to create an outdoor learning space on the 1.75-acre lot.
Brown told the Zoning Board on Thursday that he did not expect the school to affect the traffic patterns and that the property had adequate space for cars and buses to line up for student pick up and drop off.
William Mulholland, the town’s zoning official, noted in a memo to the board that The Light House moving its programs to the new property would open two new storefronts in East Lyme for businesses and would “allow the applicant to enhance the educational environment for their students.”
Kassidy told CT Examiner that, as of now, the organization plans to vacate at least one of the properties it is currently leasing. What happens with the buildings after that, he said, will be dependent on the owners and the market.
The Commission pointed out some minor safety concerns, but Terence Donovan, Chair of the Commission, said he felt that the issues would be addressed as the school underwent inspections.
The property’s 2021 assessed value is $1.285 million, although Brown said the final sale price has not yet been negotiated.
Brown said that while he did not yet know the timeline for transitioning into the new space, he hoped that the building would be ready to move at least one program into the building by the end of the summer.