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What is the Real Cost of a Greenacres Renovation?

constructioncostsThe following article was written by site founder, Joanne Wallenstein:
The flurry of comments on the proposed bond referendum contains many good points that warrant further discussion and clarification. Having thoroughly studied the current proposal and attended many meetings, I think I have as good a grasp as anyone of what's in and out of the latest proposal for the renovation of Greenacres. It seems to me that the reason this argument continues is that the cost to adequately renovate the school to meet current standards for student health and safety may be prohibitive.

Here's why:

The current plan costs $34.7 million and includes 8 new classrooms and a learning commons/cafeteria along with 8 modular classrooms on the field.

What it does not include are vital infrastructure updates to the current facility, despite reports that these are badly needed:

Here is what is NOT included:

New water pipes (current ones contain lead). This would require extensive and expensive work on the interior walls of the school.

New waste pipes inside the building. The waste pipe outside has been replaced after a "catastrophic failure" but the interior sanitary pipes remain.

New bathrooms in the existing school: These facilities are seriously outdated and in need of replacement. The July 6, 2017 proposal says that $268,000 is included in the bonds to "upgrade classroom toilet rooms." However architects now say that the challenge is that the bathrooms in the classrooms are too small and do not meet ADA requirements. As the classrooms are also too small, there is no room to borrow space to expand the bathrooms using the existing classroom space. Therefore, the current floor plan prevents the district from creating ADA compliant facilities.

Adequate Ventilation: Teachers and students report that during warm months, the classrooms are simply too hot to facilitate effective teaching. Teachers bring fans into the rooms and film has been placed on the windows, but the rooms remain uncomfortable. The unit ventilators proposed by the architects will blow in air from the outside – and if it's hot outside, hot air will be blown in. They will not cool or heat the classrooms. If the district does approve air conditioning, it is questionable whether or not the attic of the school can accommodate heavy air handlers. With global warming bringing more hot days to our area, this is a need that cannot be ignored, even if air conditioning puts the school at an advantage over other elementary schools.

Adequate sized classrooms: All of the classrooms (including the eight new ones) are below the recommended size of 900 square feet – despite the fact that the district is now permitting "Co-taught classes "with more than the maximum number of students in the room – along with two teachers. If the district plans to continue this practice, larger classrooms are needed.

Other issues to consider:

The Basement: There is a persistent smell in the basement foundation that indicates moisture, humidity and mildew ... or worse. The administration proposes to remediate this by moving the kids upstairs and installing dehumidifiers. No one knows for sure if this will work. Should the problems persist after $40 million is spent, then what?

Enrollment : Despite the administration's claims of a dip in enrollment, the population of the Greenacres School has remained very constant for years. A large part of the variation in the number of students result from the administration's decisions on where to hold inclusion and special needs classrooms and the placement of staff children. This year, Quaker Ridge now has four sections of both kindergarten and first graders, each grade with inclusion classes, as presumably they have the space. With a constant population of at least 350 kids, the need for a neighborhood Greenacres School persists.

Traffic and Parking: Issues with traffic, parking, and access to the building and the playground at the current site are real – and will only be exacerbated by the expansion of the building on the limited site footprint and the elimination of more parking spaces to accommodate the larger building. Additional staff may also be needed to man the cafeteria and they too will need to park. The district has made no recommendation on these issues – nor retained a consultant to analyze the impact on students, parents and the community.

So how does this add up? Take the current renovation estimate of $34.7 million and add the cost for plumbing, ventilation, bathrooms - and the possible relocation of the entire school population for a longer period to accommodate a more extensive interior renovation, Add in another $6 million in deferred work on the building needed down the road. What is the total cost of this decision?

As much as we would all like to compromise, the district cannot compromise on children's heath and safety. So if we consider the totality of the needs, the current state of this aged facility and the near certainty that additional non-budgeted expenses will accrue over the coming decades, it looks like the district may need to go back to the drawing board to find a feasible solution.

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