New Milford looks for new space for students with special needs

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — School officials are starting to look for a new space to accommodate the district’s older students with special needs.

The Litchfield Hills Transition Center, which provides skills training to students who are 18 to 21 years old to transition to life after high school, is outgrowing its space at the Maxx. The state requires the district educate these students until they are 21.

“It’s not urgent,” Laura Olson, New Milford’s director of pupil personnel and special services told the school board this week. “It’s not a safety risk right now for our students, but I can see it potentially being something that we will really have to look at closely.”

She said there are 10 students now for the current school year, but projections show that number will double in a few years.

Right now, the district shares the space with the town’s Youth Agency. The students are in the part of the building that has the booths and pool table, as well as a small office for the employees.

“There’s no room for privacy,” Olson, said adding it’s difficult for parent conferences and the planning and placement team meetings.

The bigger concern is that the students aren’t really able to use the building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. because the space is rented out for other groups and functions. The students attend the program from 8:40 a.m. to 3:05 p.m., but during the hours they can’t use the center they are out in the community, building job skills at local businesses.

The program is part of the school district and so aligns with the school calendar.

“We’re seeing an increasing difficulty with really meeting the needs of the students in that environment,” Olson said.

She said it’s better to be able to work with students who might have a behavioral problem in their space than to have to regulate it out in the community, such as at a grocery store.

Olson said one option for a new space might be using the John Pettibone Community Center, though that could also be an issue because students will have to get transportation back to downtown. She said it’s nice that the students can currently walk to the bank or grab a cup of coffee downtown because the Maxx is there.

Another option is the old paint store downtown, but Olson said that building would need a lot of reconstruction first to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as meet the students’ needs.

The school board welcomed the discussion so far in advance.

“Its a good conversation for us to start to have,” said board member Tammy McInerney.

Fellow board member Wendy Faulenbach added that a lot of the building use committees in town have now completed their reports, which can be used to help find a new space. She asked Olson for a budget so the board could know what they were looking for and the possible costs associated with it.

“Bringing this forward now, gives us a chance to look at it,” Faulenbach said.; 203-731-3345