The Bulletin tours Bethany Community School

Leading the Bulletin on a tour through the Bethany Community School buildings, Superintendent Domenic Vita is reminiscent of a parent whose rapidly growing teenager keeps bursting out of recently purchased clothing.

Vita has utilized every inch of available school space in the buildings renovated just a few years ago. He has, so to speak, lengthened hems and let out waistlines: a vestibule, the original entrance to the main building, has a pocket office for the curriculum coordinator and a secretary partitioned into it. The gymnasium has been divided into two so that two physical education classes can utilize it at once. The rotunda, which used to hold all the lower classes for assemblies, now has two classrooms cut out of its space.

A science laboratory is utilized as such only by the fifth and sixth grades. At other times it serves as the science enrichment room. But Vita says the state program is requiring "process oriented instruction - more hands on."

Storage closets have become offices and enrichment classrooms where small groups of children are given extra instruction. In one, a teacher is working with special education students in the narrow entrance.

A regular sized classroom, taken over from the ACES program, holds three teaching stations for supplemental programs. Here students are being given extra instruction to bootstrap their skills. But the lessons at each table of children spill over to the others, much as conversations in a crowded restaurant interrupt neighboring booths. Can the children concentrate? Dr. Vita, always attempting to be upbeat, shrugs slightly and says, "Well…ideally supplemental and special education rooms would be built to half the size of regular classrooms." This, he says, is how they would be in the proposed new school.

Schedules of the music, art, Spanish and physical education teachers are full- no more classes can be added. Health (as well as reading) is taught outside in a dreary portable classroom without a lavatory. Grades K -2 should have five sections each, but there is room only for four.

Lavatories in the two older annexes, buildings Vita hopes to decommission, are not handicapped accessible. Adapting them would necessitate removing two stalls, and leaving only one in each - to serve four classrooms of children per annex. Windows in those annexes, Vita says, are the originals and they are brittle. To keep them from shattering should they break, plastic film has been applied to the interiors. Covering the asbestos tile in those annexes is carpeting that soaks up the mud and slush (a perfect environment for the growth of mold) carried in on the shoes of the children, who troop to and from the main building several times daily.

Lunches run from 10:45 to 1 p.m.. with 20 minutes to eat followed by short recesses. "We'd like to give them more time but that would mean extending the period to 35 minutes and lunches would run from 10:30 until 1:15," Vita says.

With a staff of 100 at the school and 16 buses, even parking has become "a challenge," says Vita.

There is no room for the superintendent's office in the school buildings. Vita occupies space in the town hall.

The Bulletin asks him the question many residents have been raising. Why is this school over capacity when it was built for approximately the number of students (around 630) there now? Part of the answer, according to Vita, is that the town is continuing to grow. Unlike neighboring Woodbridge, Bethany is not close to build-out.

The other is that the programs have changed. Many handicapped children who attended special programs in the past are now mainstreamed, resulting in the need for smaller classes. In addition, children with difficulties learning to read in the lower grades are pulled out of classes for supplemental instruction. Although this necessitates more space and teachers early on, in later grades these children are able to return to regular classes instead of needing special education. Vita explains that, years ago, many of these children were left with poor reading skills.

Kindergarten used to be a half-day, so one room housed two classes. Today, with the extended and full day, each kindergarten class requires its own room.

In addition, there are state and federal mandates to be met. Bethany, for example, has two required pre-school early intervention classes.

Vita hopes the public will see the need for a new school building, but he says he loves the town, the people and the children here. Like a caring parent, he'll make do if he has to. "It's up to the public," he says.

Meanwhile, testing of the Luke Hill Road property selected as a preferred site for a new lower school continues. At last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski announced that a 400 foot well was dug and is yielding a "good" amount of water, at 11 gal/min.

Two information meetings for the public have been planned: Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and March 26.