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Pierson to Close; Town Eyeing Next Steps
The Abraham Pierson School at 75 East Main Street will close after the current school year. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News)
It’s official: The Abraham Pierson School will close. The Board of Education (BOE) formally and unanimously voted for the closure at its Nov. 5 meeting.
Citing rising costs and declining enrollment, the BOE in May formed a subcommittee to conduct a six-month study on the facility needs of the district. In October, that committee recommended to the BOE that the district close the Pierson School and presented its findings to the public in a presentation on Oct. 23.
The closure of the Pierson School will require significant changes to the district. The Pierson School serves grades 4 and 5. Under the move, grade 4 would go to the Lewin Joel School (which currently serves pre-K to grade 3 students) and grade 5 would go to the Jared Eliot Middle School (now serving grades 6 to 8). The changes will go into effect during the 2019-’20 school year.
“We would only consider the 2019-’20 school year if we were comfortable with it,” BOE Chair Erica Gelven said.
Superintendent of Schools Maryann O’Donnell said a number of things remain to be determined, including schedules, methods of maintaining school climate and cultures, and the logistics the moves. O’Donnell also noted that school roofing improvements that are scheduled to begin in the summer 2020 would have made putting off the move another year more difficult due to the construction work.
Gelven said that the administration is putting together the details for the move.
“We’re hoping that after the first of the year we’ll have a timeline,” Gelven said.
The BOE is considering holding a public information meeting in the spring. Additionally, Gelven said that ongoing updates will be provided under the “District Reorganization” tab on the district’s website, www.clintonpublic.net.
The closing of Pierson will play a role in how the BOE determines its proposed budget, which has become an annual battle to pass in Clinton. BOE member Sandy Luke said it was difficult to put concrete numbers on any proposed costs at this time, as staffing and utility use changes as Joel and Eliot will have an effect.
Control of Pierson will be turned over to the town once the building is no longer needed for educational purposes. The town will then be tasked with selling or maintaining the building.
The Town’s Role
First Selectman Christine Goupil said that the town would take several steps to find a way to utilize the Pierson School that were not taken during the closing of the old Morgan School.
“The biggest thing is they didn’t look at waste water capacity,” Goupil said of the challenges the town faced finding a buyer for the former Morgan.
Goupil said that in addition to determining the waste water capacity of the site, the town would need to gauge the public’s interest as to what they’d like to do with space.
“We have to do public outreach to see what they want to do,” said Goupil.
Goupil said he town would need to conduct market research as well, and stated that all of these steps could be done in concurrently.
Some residents have suggested moving the Henry Carter Hull Library to the Pierson building, and then selling the current library building.
Goupil said the town will investigate making that move, but said that such a move would required changes to the Pierson building. It also would require the approval of the library board.
“I don’t think the library [move] will be feasible,” Goupil said.
Goupil said that the Pierson building is a “prime location for transit-oriented development.” Additionally, Goupil reiterated her position that the town would benefit from having a full-time town planner in town hall to handle projects such as this.
“We really need a planner in town to shepherd these kinds of projects,” she said. “Currently, Clinton has a part-time planner that does not have the town as their only priority.”
Goupil said that the town, which has funding for a full-time planner, is still searching for someone to work in that position full time.
The Pierson school is an iconic building to many who grew up in Clinton. The school is more than 80 years old, and its location in downtown Clinton afforded students an opportunity to take quick field trips to the town beach or town hall.
“Both my kids would be moving into Pierson, so we don’t get to experience it personally,” Goupil said.
However, the school only has 251 students this year. The low enrollment contributed to the decision to close it. The subcommittee determined that, with some extra work, the experiences that made Pierson unique could be replicated at the other schools. “If you had asked me five years ago if I thought this was the prudent move…I would have said, ‘Oh, no,’” Gelven said.