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Following last week’s news that Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) will need to relocate from its longstanding Madison home in 2018, local community members and officials are coming together to try and keep the school in town.
The school, which is administered by the parishes of St. George in Guilford and St. Margaret in Madison, leases its Neck Road facility from The Sisters of Mercy, which will not renew the school’s lease after the 2017-’18 session.
First Selectman Tom Banisch said that the town is determining if its needs and the school’s need may overlap.
“They [OLM] are going to start looking for alternatives now, they are not going to wait until they are closed and then say, ‘OK, now what are we going to do?’” he said. “What I want to do is get in front of it and say, ‘Hey, let’s all have a conversation where we see what their needs are and if they fit in with what our plans are going to be.’”
Banisch noted that there could be some new buildings available on the horizon to lease to OLM.
“The talk in Madison is that we are going to close at least one public school,” he said. “So if we are closing a school and they need a school, there is some possibilities there, so we have been discussing what those possibilities might be and how it might dovetail with what our plans end up being.”
The possible closure of a public school is a part of the Board of Education (BOE) current facilities study. Multiple grade- and building reconfigurations are still on the table, but Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice said there is a significant possibility at least one school building will be closed.
“We are at the point of considering by the end of this school year the long term plan for our schools and what we are looking at is either a six-school model, a five-school model, or a four-school model,” he said. “If we go with a four-school model, a part of that plan is to retire all three elementary schools and to build a brand new preK- to 2nd-grade school that would serve the entire town.”
If the town and the BOE opted for the four-school model, the three existing elementary school buildings would be returned to the town. The use of the retired facilities would then be left at the town’s discretion, but a decision could be many years away.
“The timeline for us on that could be anywhere from three to four years, conservatively,” Scarice said. “It might not match up perfectly to with where OLM is, but then again, this is all informal, there has not been a meeting of the minds together on this, but I think if I can kind of infer from both sides there is a potential win-win at play here.”
Scarice said it would be unfortunate if OLM were to leave the area as it cuts down on education options in town.
“I think there are certain people that, rightfully so, chose the Catholic school route based on their own values and faith and it is sad to see those options here and across the state dry up for them,” he said. “I think parents should have those options, especially those faith-based options, if that is something that is important to them and their families.”
John Picard, a parent at OLM with two children currently in the school, said the OLM community is also doing its part to help keep the school local.
“We are putting a committee together and parents have voiced their concerns about what’s next and have offered their support through Sister Carol,” he said. “We are going to reach out to as many people as possible, as if there are any buildings available or land available, whatever it takes to keep the school in this area.”
Picard said he has been encouraged by the support offered by the town and said keeping the school here is a priority to even non-Madison families.
“I think this area is what the parents, who are from Madison, Guilford, [and] Clinton, really want, so we are going to work hard to keep it in the area,” he said. “For me personally, Madison would be my first choice, but we are all going to work together to keep this school open.”
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