Phase one of the School Modernization – a multi-year plan designed to replace or refurbish all Cheshire Public Schools – won voter approval at the last election, with nearly 8,000 residents casting ballots for the $166m proposal, to some extent more than 5,000 voting against.
Now, the town will move from planning to execution when it comes to this project, and when the dust settles, Cheshire should have two new schools – one at the north end of the town, and one at the south side.
As part of the plan, the community will close two existing buildings – Chapman School and Darcy’s. What the city will do with the buildings and properties is not yet clear, and no final plan for their future has been announced.
However, this wouldn’t be at least the first time that Darcy has undergone major changes.
Built in 1947, Darcy’s was an elementary school and home to the town’s preschool program until 1972, when that program was transferred to Highland School. Then, in 1978, it was transferred again to Darcy’s as the school was repurposed.
in the October 28, 1982 edition HeraldA front-page article explained a bit of Darcy’s history, as well as what the headmasters of the time envisioned as a great future for the facility on Waterbury Road:
The future of private education is that more and more local money will be required to meet state and federal mandates, Superintendent of Schools Stephen August said at a joint meeting of the Board of Education and City Council on Tuesday night. The two groups met at Darcy’s School on Waterbury Road, home of the Cheshire School Pre-School Program and center of the Waterbury Regional Center Program for children who can be trained (with special needs) in their care. The board closed Darcy’s School as a regular primary school in 1977 and leased it the following year to Faith Baptist School, which used part of it as a school. That same year, the Highland School’s preschool program for children with disabilities moved to Darcy’s with $80,000 in federal funding to return many of the classrooms into instructional spaces specifically designed and appropriate for the program.
ACES (Cooperative Educational Services District) chartered the school in 1978 and leased part of it to the Waterbury Regional Centre. According to Dr. Augustus, the money made by this arrangement meant that the pre-school was run free of charge.
The article goes on to explain that, enrolled in the school there were 105 students who were part of the Waterbury Regional Centre, while only 49 of the pre-school students were from the city. If the community spent the money to completely renovate the space, Augustus predicted that it could, eventually, accommodate 200 total students.
However, the superintendent has set his sights on another possible future for the school:
… Dr. August hopes to secure $300,000 in funding to develop a regional center for special education at the school. Not only will tuition fees be met from students from other towns, he said, but Cheshire will provide overseas tuition fees for some of its students as well as transportation costs for those students.
These costs, the article relates to readers, were rather high for that period. The city was responsible for paying an average of $72 per day to transfer students to other schools in the area that are equipped to handle students with special needs, and tuition costs ranged from $7,000 to $9,000 per year per student.
August warned that these numbers will not remain stagnant:
However, out-of-town tuition costs can escalate into the mid-20s and higher for students who must be put into a live-in situation. Dr stressed. Augustus stated that the center he envisioned would not be able to accommodate all special education children, but would most likely specialize in a limited set of special education cases.
According to the article, August seemed to be building on similar initiatives being taken up by other cities. In his view, the counties would set up specialist programs to accommodate students with specific needs, so that it would be easier for the city to find homes for local children whose needs could not be met by this new regional center in Cheshire that August had envisioned running from Darcy.
He commented that this would ultimately be beneficial for students, parents and taxpayers:
Thus, Cheshire students who could not be absorbed into the Cheshire system might be able to shorten their transportation time and School Board costs, by taking them to nearby towns for their education, rather than taking them to distant districts.
Although he remained in the conceptual stage, Augustus already had an idea of how he and the county would proceed, which he explained Herald:
For Darcy’s development, Dr August hopes to secure the approval of an architect to be appointed for plans and estimates to transform the site. With plans and estimates in hand, he could apply to the state under PA 1096, one of the few funding programs still available, with hopes of getting at least some of the required $300,000.
The resulting center, according to Augustus, would be self-sufficient and possibly revenue-producing.
Birth to Three was born in 1982 and since then until now has served students from Cheshire as well as Naugatuck, Wolcott and Prospect. The school has also become home to the Stephen August Early Intervention Center (EIC), named after the very man who believed in Darcy as a space where children dealing with all kinds of challenges could receive the help they deserve.
These programs will remain, but in the next few years they will be moved from Darcy. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Will new educational programs be established in the facility? Would someone repurpose the building for a completely different use? Would someone buy the property and offer a completely different vision of their future?
There is no way to find out.
What we do know is that Darcy has gone through many transformations over the years. This may ultimately be the most permanent.