By Stephen Knight
In the past few months, there has been a mystifying dustup over Choate’s application to build a new admissions building and welcome center on their property that borders North Elm Street. Apparently, a few of the nearby residents have decided that Choate Rosemary Hall School has not sufficiently kept them in the loop about their project and, for that reason, they are opposing it quite publicly.
Perhaps there is a belief that, somehow, we residents should have veto power over their plans, or, at the very least, should have a ringside seat at every step of the development. To my knowledge, Choate has been very forthcoming with Town of Wallingford municipal government, especially the Inland Wetlands and Planning and Zoning Commissions. Both of these bodies will be analyzing Choate’s proposal to see that the regulations they enforce are adhered to. I am curious as to why some feel the school should be denied the opportunity to improve their campus even if they comply with these regulations.
Choate Rosemary Hall School is a unique and incomparably valuable asset to the entire community of Wallingford. The subject of this column is to outline why that is such an easy statement to make. There will be three elements to this discussion: their economic, cultural and community contributions to Wallingford; their position within their “industry”; and a perspective concerning their difficult primary responsibilities.
Contributions to the community: Even though it would be to their advantage, Choate does not parade its every contribution to Wallingford, so I had to reach out to them for information, which they provided me. I could bury readers in statistics, but I’ll hold back and just list a few:
■Choate employs 455 people, 58% of whom live in Wallingford. This makes the school the fifth-largest employer here, and their annual payroll is in the neighborhood of $36 million.
■The school has invested more than $90 million in one-time construction projects since 2017.
■In 2022, Choate spent $5,389,000 in the operation and maintenance of its facilities, to the direct and indirect benefit of local and state businesses.
These are important contributions, to be sure, but the perhaps underappreciated benefits that Choate’s presence brings to Wallingford are its cultural and community contributions that have had an indelible and unique impact on our town. Space does not permit a thorough listing, but here are some highlights:
■SCOW: As a longtime board member of this organization, I have personally seen how Choate has reached out to us in so many ways. They have underwritten and hosted several wonderful fundraisers, and will be doing so again this May. Their remarkable students and teachers have provided tutoring services, music lessons, and all types of assistance, as best illustrated in a February 11th article and February 16th editorial about the Teach Music Program.
■TWIST Tournament: for the past thirty-seven years, Choate has donated their beautiful athletic fields as a partner site for this tournament. Each summer, 90 teams come to town to compete.
■Wallingford Center: Choate is one of the primary sponsors of our wonderful Celebrate Wallingford fall festival. They have consistently supported other initiatives to keeping our town center vibrant.
■Wallingford Symphony was founded by Choate faculty member Phil T. Ventre, and the school has hosted concerts at its facilities since 1974.
■Wallingford Library: In a number of ways, Choate students contribute their time to our public library to offer reading and tutoring programs, as well as to several ongoing WPL programs.
Primary responsibilities: Job One is to build and maintain the highest academic standards possible. Equally as important, Choate Rosemary Hall School has committed to each parent that their child will be safe, be nurtured, and be given all of the close attention that good parenting itself requires. It goes without saying that managing teenaged children during these formative years is a difficult assignment. It is made even more difficult because 75% of these 866 students live on the campus far from the watchful eyes of their parents.
Choate’s competitive environment: As a graduate of another private secondary school, I have always been aware that Choate Rosemary Hall School is one of America’s very best. As such, they are in competition with other first-tier institutions for the best students. These students and their parents are looking for excellence in every aspect: faculty, curriculum, administration, student opportunities and so forth. Top-quality facilities are imperative as well, and even a cursory glance at Choate’s buildings and grounds will tell you that they succeed. This is the reason they are investing in a state-of-the-art admissions building and welcome center. When parents arrive to see the school, this building is likely to be their important first impression.
Inevitably, Choate will again be asking for approval to make yet another investment in their school. If they adhere to the environmental and town planning regulations, their proposal should be approved. This institution has richly contributed to Wallingford in so many ways, and they will continue to do so. Once in a while, we need to be reminded of this, because, honestly, we sometimes take them for granted. Let’s turn the heat down and begin to appreciate this enormous community asset.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.