'Dangerous' Silvermine school parking lot in Norwalk needs redesign that's expected in summer

NORWALK — Each weekday morning and afternoon, parents and buses vie for space in the congested parking lot at Silvermine Dual Language Magnet School. 

School officials say the structure of the parking lot, with parents and buses dropping off at the same time and in the same area, poses a safety issue for the children and creates a dangerous situation. 

“There’s been many near-misses,”said Bill Hodel, director of facilities and maintenance for the school district. 

That's why two Norwalk boards have passed motions to allow Norwalk Public Schools to reallocate funds that have been approved for other projects toward improvements at Silvermine's parking lot. The latest approvals came at the Jan. 9 Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting and the Jan. 18 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, where members nearly unanimously signed off on the fund redistribution, with one abstention. 

The plan still needs more approvals, which includes support from the Finance Committee and the Common Council, because it involves "capital dollars," Hodel wrote in an email.  "Assuming the common council approves the funding for this project, legal will need to generate a contract before we can begin this time sensitive project."

Originally, the Silvermine project received approval for $1.58 million in 2020, but due to COVID-19 and other delays, the Board of Education did not complete it yet. When the project opened for bids in 2022, each one was above the approved amount. Now, the project will cost $425,000 more than the Board of Education planned, which accounts for $203,000 for contingencies and the rest for the price difference. 

These funds already belonged to the Board of Education as “prior allocation of the capital budget assigned to the Board of Ed,” according to Hodel, so the city boards did not need to approve any additional funds given to the school system. Instead, the question stood as whether they would allow the schools to shave money from various other projects and pool the funds into the Silvermine driveway payment. 

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Mayor Harry Rilling advocated for the project, noting that “we have been working on (the bid for the Silvermine school driveway) for quite some time. It’s a dangerous situation. The configuration right now needs to be completely redesigned so that people can come into the parking lot, drop their children off in a safe fashion.”

Hodel implored the board to see the severity of the situation at Silvermine and why the school improvement should take priority over other projects. 

“I don’t think we can go another year without doing this project,” said Hodel, who presented the project and the plan for fund redistribution to the Planning and Zoning Commission. “We have everything lined up.”

According to Hodel, summer activities have been moved to other schools, and the calendar at Silvermine is clear for construction to begin the day after graduation. The school will be closed with a goal of reopening in the late summer. The project may possibly affect septic system pipes located under the parking lot, so a contingency plan has been requested in case the construction has a negative affect on the septic system.

Contact Faith Marnecheck at faith.marnecheck@hearstmediact.com