Architects Make Proposals to the Scarsdale Schools
- Published on Tuesday, 07 February 2017 17:07
- Joanne Wallenstein
Five architectural firms, selected from 18 respondents to an RFP for a district architect for the Scarsdale Schools, made proposals before the School Board and administration at two meetings last week.
When Superintendent Thomas Hagerman announced that the district would not work with architect's KG&D on projects beyond those approved in the $18.2 million 2014 bond, observers wondered what the future would be for the renovation and design of Scarsdale's facilities. With $60 million in debt expiring this year, the community had been told that the district would move forward with addressing Greenacres Elementary School and other needs identified in a district-wide facilities plan. However plans for Greenacres were put on hold in the fall of 2016 when the community became polarized about renovating the existing school or constructing a new school on the field across the street.
Now the Superintendent has announced an ambitious timeline to retain new architects, assess district-wide needs, formulate plans for Greenacres and pass a bond referendum in December 2017 or January 2018.
Toward that goal the Board interviewed five firms with a variety of capabilities and strengths on February 1 and February 3, 2017. This week, they will invite back two finalists on February 7 and plan to make a decision and appoint the new architects at the February 13 meeting of the Board of Education.
Each firm was given an hour to present before the board and respond to questions. Some of the firms emphasized their engineering expertise while others promoted their design capabilities, knowledge of state regulations, sensitivity to sustainability and ability to build consensus in the community.
Burton Behrendt Smith
First up was Burton Behrendt Smith from Patchogue, NY who highlighted their engineering skills and promised to investigate leaks, water infiltration issues and asbestos. They called themselves experts in forensic architecture and problem solvers who could get to the source of a leaky building. They proposed the use of energy performance contracts to save district funds down the line and said they would be a "fresh set of eyes on existing facilities," to analyze district priorities.
In terms of helping the district decide between renovation or a new building they said they would investigate both options and even explore possibilities for community use of the existing school should a new school be built.
Tom Ritzenthaler of CS Arch was up next. The firm is based in Newburgh and Albany and is one of the largest firms in the state with 85 on staff. Ritzenthaler said their expertise with the NYS Education Department could help the district maximize state building aid and get the plans approved in a timely manner. Their focus is to improve the education of children. He also vowed to enhance building security. When asked how their firm would help evaluate a decision on Greenacres, Ritzenthaler said, "The building needs $27-$28 million of work in repairs. And that's without addressing the comprehensive improvement to educational delivery in that building. If you get to 50% of the building value you should look at a new building. Even the state education department would say that."
Asked about sustainability, he replied, "Our standard design practice is to be as sustainable and energy efficient as possible. We consider glass, HVAC, and fresh air. Air quality is very important to the educational process."
He conveyed the need to build trust with the community, recounting what happened when the roof of the school at Webster Avenue in New Rochelle collapsed. The firm was able to have the situation resolved quickly, while the children were relocated to another building and did not miss a day of school.
Geddis and Dattner Architects
Barbara Geddis of Geddis Architects of Southport CT partnered with Daniel Heuberger from Dattner Architects of NYC. They called themselves "out of the box thinkers, and noted that Dattner wrote the "Green Book on Sustainable Schools." Dattner was selected to design the renovation at the Scarsdale Library and is familiar with the stakeholders in the community. They both emphasized their experience with clients in the public domain, their focus on preservation and history and innovation in education.
Geddis said, "We start from the inside out and think about the learning environment." Rather than designing in terms of individual classrooms they design pods with multiple spaces by grade or multiple grades as well as small group instruction spaces, self-directed and individual learning spaces. They explained that they do their best to avoid designing long hallways which are a waste of space, and can instead be used for group learning, storage and have window seats with views.
They showed their work which included beautiful renovations and new construction. Dattner designed and eight story high rise school at Battery Park City which was one of the first green schools in New York City and includes photovoltaic panel arrays and an extensive energy and weather monitoring system. The self-guided energy use signs make the building itself a part of the learning environment.
Asked how they would approach Greenacres, Geddis said, "We are rooted in history and we start with a bias that anything can be transformed. If the site is extremely difficult then it's the perfect project for us. ... we have never taken anything down. – except where there is mold and air quality issues."
More creative thinking came from KSQ Design. Mark McCarthy, formerly of Perkins Eastman joined the firm in 2016 and discussed their philosophy. He said, "We make vibrant communities possible." He said he had toured Greenacres and understood the challenges. He discussed the importance of collaborative learning spaces and called outdoor spaces an extension of the learning environment. When making design decisions they factor in comfort, natural light and fresh air and design spaces that will encourage students to make connections. He said, "A great school inspires one to dream," and said when making decisions they need to consider design for today and for 40-50 years from now.
At a project at West Patent Elementary School, they built in many sustainable features such as solar tubes, rainwater gardens and voltaic arrays for solar power. Solar radiation preheats the air before it goes into the ventilation system, using passive solar energy to reduce costs.
In terms of Greenacres he said, "We are not rooting for a new school. We are rooting for a long-term relationship." He added, "We will find an idea that will galvanize the community toward one particular solution."
He said that in Bedford the firm had "a community summit. We engaged the community and had them break down into small study groups." He added, "We are available, we are close by and we try to communicate as much as possible."
Peter Gisolfi and Associates
Peter Gisolfi and Associates, the former architect of record for the Scarsdale Schools was invited back as well. They designed the large Fountain House addition to Scarsdale Middle School along with the new gym, the two-story library and the science wing at Scarsdale High School. They are both architects and landscape architects based in Hastings on Hudson.
They showed some dazzling work of a school and community center with a shared indoor pool overlooking the Hudson in Peekskill and an extension at Rye Country Day School. A project at the Hackley School involved extensive outdoor work including a freshwater pond and raised pathway through a marsh. At Cornell University, White Hall, one of the original historic buildings was totally redesigned on the inside, leaving the façade intact. They also showed the LEED certified Darien Library that was visited by the committee who looked into the redesign of Scarsdale Library.
They ended by offering to understand the needs of the district and to provide technical excellence and imaginative thinking.
The School Board will meet again at 7 pm on Tuesday February 7 to hear more from the two chosen finalists.