New preschool is presented

Wilton parents may soon have a new preschool option in town.

Deborah Lee of Fairfield has entered an application with the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval to build a Goddard School facility at 285 Danbury Road, in front of the Wilton High School campus where an unoccupied residential building currently stands.

The child care facility would be one of more than 400 independently owned Goddard facilities that operate in the United States. According to the Goddard School official website, the schools’ programs are focused around the power of learning for children while having fun.

“This program is based on academic research that states children experience the deepest, most genuine learning when they are having fun,” reads the Goddard School philosophy. “The program focuses on academic, social, creative and child-centered development to provide a well-rounded experience and ensure children become confident, joyful and fully prepared students.”

The Wilton Goddard School plans to enroll 130 pupils for both full-day care and part-time preschool-style care, said Ms. Lee.

Originally from New Jersey, Ms. Lee and her husband, Kevin, moved to Connecticut three years ago hoping to open a Goddard School. After a few years of frustration trying to find a suitable space in their hometown of Fairfield, they came upon Wilton during extensive demographic research, she said.

“Our children went to a Goddard School in Princeton and really had a great experience,” she said. “It was a great lifestyle choice for us, and we really believe in the program. As far as preschools go, Goddard was the standout — the one up in front of the others.”

In Wilton, she said, the couple was able to find the right space for, and interest in, a preschool facility like the one she is proposing. Between building space, play space, and parking space, a Goddard School needs a significant amount of room, she said.

“We’ve been looking in Fairfield for a very long time,” she said, “but they just didn’t have the space that we need. We need 8,000 to 10,000 square feet for the building, plus 30 to 40 parking spaces, plus 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of outdoor space. We like to offer a lot of outdoor space for the kids to play. We knew Wilton was an excellent town with a great reputation for schools, and the demographics really work.”

According to Ms. Lee, Wilton is especially ready for a Goddard School because there are no comparable programs available in the area.

“There are not many comparable schools in the town that we see as competitors,” she said. “Our program is for 6-week-old babies to 6-year-old children. Really the school focuses on full-time care for full-time working parents, and also offers a great half-day preschool program.”

At the Monday, Sept. 23, meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission, Town Planner Bob Nerney told the audience he felt the proposed school plan is a good one, considering the area could also have been converted into a retail property.

Ms. Lee agreed with that sentiment during an interview on Monday, Sept. 30, pointing out that the school’s proximity to the town’s other education facilities makes it convenient for parents looking for a quick morning drop-off.

The proposed plan, she said, would also be a large improvement on the unoccupied and derelict residential building that currently stands on the property.

A few challenges await the school’s plan, however. These potential problems were highlighted by commissioners’ statements at the meeting on Sept. 23.

Commissioner Marilyn Gould questioned the appropriateness of a driveway exit onto Kristine Lilly drive, as she felt it might add to existing traffic issues.

Kevin O’Brien, a real estate agent and land use consultant representing Ms. Lee, addressed this concern, telling the commission that use of Kristine Lilly Way “should not be a problem” because the proposed school is not a retail storefront that would experience traffic “in and out all day.”

Joseph Balskus, a traffic engineer, quantified the additional traffic to be created by the school, saying the proposed use is expected to generate additional traffic of about 88 cars. Sixty percent of that traffic would come from the north, and 40% would come from the south, he said.

Mr. Nerney suggested later in the meeting the Goddard School might consider placing a gate on its exit to Kristine Lilly Way, allowing that exit to be used only during late afternoon hours, when the road is less congested. This would also allow parents to avoid making a left turn onto the four-lane Danbury Road during rush hour.

Commissioner Bas Nabulsi questioned the adequacy of 13 parking spaces for the facility, as is included in the proposal. Considering a possible enrollment of 130 pupils, he wondered if those spaces were adequate for staff and parents dropping off students.

Mr. Balkus said that, as a traffic engineer, he believed 13 spaces would be adequate, considering the fact most parents require only a few minutes to drop off students.

Additionally, Ms. Lee noted that student drop-off times and staff work schedules would be staggered and thus decrease the amount of traffic entering and exiting the facility at once. This staggered schedule would be dependent on enrollment makeup and individual family work schedules, she said.