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Greenacres Residents Retain Lawyers to Monitor Environmental and Legal Requirements for Proposed School Renovation

constructionBelow find a letter from the Greenacres Task Force to Scarsdale10583.com.

Independent Oversight Needed To Protect Children During Greenacres Renovation

Scarsdale residents must demand that construction projects addressing our schools' deteriorating infrastructure are accomplished in a safe, responsible and educationally appropriate manner.

Unfortunately, in the case of the proposed extensive renovation of Greenacres Elementary School, recent actions by the Board of Education have demonstrated a myopic focus on minimizing cost to the detriment of all other considerations, a willingness to make decisions based on incomplete or erroneous information, and refusal to seek guidance from or engage in a conversation with parents and community members.

Given the Board's questionable statements and actions, concerned residents have formed the Greenacres Elementary Task Force to help educate the community about the District's plans, confirm that proper process is followed to protect our children, and ensure that resources are deployed wisely and efficiently for the benefit of the entire community.

The District's current plan for Greenacres Elementary calls for the children to remain in the building during a 2-3 year renovation and expansion project that will subject the children to environmental risks such as asbestos, lead based paint, mold, dust, noise, and other construction hazards.

The Task Force has retained a law firm and environmental experts to monitor the District's compliance with environmental and legal requirements related to the proposed Greenacres renovation. On Monday, July 31, the lawyers for the Task Force sent the letter below to the School Board outlining the Task Force's initial steps.

To learn more, please visit www.greenacrestaskforce.org.

Here is the letter from attorneys Zarin and Steinmetz to the Scarsdale Board of Education:

Via E-Mail (boardofed@scarsdaleschools.org) and Overnight Mail

President William Natbony and Trustees of the Scarsdale Board of Education
2 Brewster Road
Scarsdale, New York 10583

Re: Greenacres Elementary School Facilities Planning

Dear President Natbony and Trustees of the Board:

This firm has been retained by the Greenacres Elementary Task Force made up of concerned residents of Scarsdale (the "Task Force") in connection with the above referenced matter. We, along with a team of various environmental and planning consultants, have been tasked with monitoring the School District's process as it prepares the "scope of work" to address the deteriorating conditions in the Greenacres Elementary School building (the "School"). This includes assisting the Task Force to ensure that the District recognizes and addresses parents' health, safety and many other concerns associated with the current concept to renovate and expand the old School while their young school children are present.

We are writing this letter to inform the District of our preliminary concerns about the lack of transparency in the review process to date, and various potential adverse environmental impacts that the District has apparently not considered. It is our understanding that the District is currently undertaking the mandatory evaluation of potential adverse environmental impacts, and alternative plans to avoid these impacts, as required under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). The District is apparently considering fast tracking its review so that a determination of significance can be adopted as early as August, but no later than October 2017, so as to allow a December referendum on bond financing for the renovation project and other District facilities projects. According to the Assistant Superintendent for Business at the Board's July 6, 2017 Business Meeting, the District has hired a consultant that will make sure "all the paperwork gets done" in the next few months, implying that "no further analysis" may be needed.

This is a serious concern for the Task Force. As your environmental consultant can attest to, the mandates of SEQRA cannot be satisfied by merely checking boxes or completing boilerplate "paperwork." It does not appear that any consideration of potential impacts upon the community, such as, inter alia, the surveying and disposal of hazardous materials, air quality and other health hazard controls, traffic and parking mitigation, and storm water management has occurred to date. See 6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 617.7(c). Moreover, it appears that the District has summarily dismissed without substantively evaluating whether constructing an entirely new building would (a) avoid or substantially mitigate these impacts, or (b) result in the most educationally appropriate and fiscally responsible project. Indeed, the District's list of consultants that was recently disclosed to the public does not include any planning or engineering professionals typically retained to evaluate the magnitude of these types of impacts.

To the extent that the District's consultant team has prepared any assessments of potential environmental impacts, it has not occurred in a manner that would permit the community (including the parents of children who will be forced to endure the construction on a daily basis) to understand what has been reviewed, and more importantly, provide their insight as to potential risks which must be avoided. Relying on "paperwork" compiled through a closed-door process to reach a determination of environmental significance would violate the very purpose of SEQRA. Moreover, excluding key stakeholders from the evaluation of potential environmental impacts would certainly not constitute the "hard look" required under SEQRA. Save the Pine Bush, Inc. v. Common Council of City of Albany, 13 N.Y.3d 297 (2009).

The Task Force has retained several experts to evaluate whether the District's current concept would adequately protect the students in the School, or would otherwise result in undesirable consequences upon the community. This team currently includes an indoor and outdoor environmental health and safety consulting firm to evaluate whether any renovations in the School will result in unsafe, and thus unacceptable, conditions for young school children due to the disturbance of asbestos, lead, mold and other hazards present in the School. It also includes a traffic consulting firm to evaluate whether the District's plans will intensify existing traffic congestion and parking deficiencies occurring during peak drop-off and pick-up times in the neighborhood. We also anticipate adding other professionals to the team as our review of the District's progress continues.

We will be submitting the reports of the Task Force's experts for your Record so the District may consider their findings during the SEQRA process. The Task Force will submit these reports well in advance of October, but will need time to undertake certain studies which must occur while school is in session in order to properly evaluate current operating conditions. This includes identifying current and anticipated future traffic and parking levels that can only be accurately measured while school is in session. While we assume that the District will also need to wait until School is back in session to complete its impact assessments, we respectfully request that the District inform the public if it intends to make a SEQRA determination in August or September so that the Task Force may act accordingly. Again, we would question the propriety of the District making any determination under SEQRA before permitting the public to review and comment on the District's impact assessments.

The District has also stated that it plans to convene a District-wide facilities committee and a Greenacres building committee during the summer. We hereby request that representatives from the Task Force be included on both of these committees.

Finally, it is our understanding that several parents and other stakeholders have sought information from the District pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL"). Specifically, there is an outstanding request to review all documents in the District's files relating to the environmental assessments it has undertaken as of July 2017. We are also submitting under separate cover a FOIL Request on behalf of the Task Force for similar materials to provide to their experts. We would hope that the District will expedite its responses to these requests, given the public interest in this matter.

We look forward to working with the District on this matter.
Very truly yours,

ZARIN & STEINMETZ

By: /s/_________________
David J. Cooper
Edward P. Teyber

cc:
Dr. Thomas Hagerman - Scarsdale Superintendent of Schools
Greenacres Elementary Task Force
Mary Beth Evans and Linda Doucette Ashman, League of Women Voters of Scarsdale
Andrew Sereysky, Greenacres Neighborhood Association

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