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A Neighborhood School in Harmony with Neighborhood Norms

schoolpickupAs the community explores options for the expansion of Greenacres School, I think everyone can agree that the building design should respect neighborhood character and conform to local Village building code. The school is smack in the middle of a vital residential neighborhood, closely bordering homes. Whatever is built will inevitably affect the neighboring homes and impact the appearance of the community. Therefore, when considering construction plans, the Board of Education should keep the neighbors' needs in mind and respect local zoning code.

Greenacres sits in Zone A (3). If the building were governed by local code, what would the requirements for this area be?

Height: The code says, "No building shall exceed 35 feet in height." 

Setbacks: Setbacks from the street are enforced for safety reasons, to prevent crowding, to allow for placement of utilities and to give uniformity to a neighborhood. In zone A(3) the required setback is 30 feet from the curb. 

Maximum Lot Coverage: Greenacres Elementary School sits on a 3-acre lot, which is 138,680 square feet. If the building were a home in the area, the building requirements would allow for a building with a maximum footprint of 17,411 square feet or 14% of the lot. For a two- story building, the maximum square footage of the building would be double that --or 34,822 square feet – or if height restrictions allowed, a three-story building could be 52,233 square feet.

Though architects BBS have not yet provided renderings of the proposed addition to the school, they have said the following:

  • The proposed building will be set back only eight feet from the curb on Huntington Avenue rather than the 30 feet required for area homes.
  • The renovated building will be 79,147 square feet or about 25,000 square feet more than the guidelines.
  • The building will extend upward three stories starting at the bottom of the hill on Huntington Avenue. The height has not been provided.
  • The proposed building appears to cover at least 80% of the lot.

From everything we can see the building will not conform in any way to the current zoning requirements or character of the neighborhood.

Since the school district seeks approvals from the State Education Department rather than the Scarsdale Village Planning and Building Departments, the architects from BBS claim that they will be permitted to build a structure that far exceeds the capacity of the current site. Even if they are able to get variances or ignore code requirements, is that in the best interests of the residents? The building will undoubtedly be bulkier and taller than appropriate and from what we can see it will cover the lions' share of the site.

The perennial problems at the school will not be addressed and in fact will be exacerbated:

  • Where will there be space for parking?
  • How will children cross the street to the playground and field?
  • Where will they be safely picked up and dropped off? With most of the green space gone, will there be sufficient space on the sidewalk for safe entry and exit to the school?

It will be up to the Board of Education and the community to decide whether a building of this scale should be permitted, even if it does receive the stamp of approval from the State Education Department.

Perhaps the Scarsdale School Board should share the plans with the folks that govern construction and zoning in Scarsdale Village government. Let's find out how they assess the impacts of the proposed project? Is it right for the Greenacres neighborhood and for Scarsdale's kids?

What do you think? If you wish to comment, please use your real name.

Comments   

+14 #10 Rework the plan 2017-08-12 13:34
i agree with the comment by Greenacres Resident. Perhaps this addition does not need to be so large so as to shoehorn it onto that site. The environmental review process will require (whether the District office likes it or not) the consideration of options to mitigate impacts. Instead of the new build option, perhaps the District should begin by assessing how many students can fit COMFORTABLY into the current building. If it is somewhat fewer then the current enrollment, then first look to ways to move those students to other schools. Then perhaps determine class size based on classroom size, and not on a one size fits all class cap (22 or 24). Maybe if the District can consider varying the class cap based on whether the physical space can really support that, we can keep the current building but make it more bearable for the students and teachers alike.
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+12 #9 FM Resident 2017-08-12 12:33
The BOE does not consider traffic flow or traffic problems around Greenacres, or any other school for that matter. The BOE feels their responsibility ends at the curb, and they are not responsible for any traffic problems their designs or procedures may cause. The creat the problem then point fingers at the Village and PD to resolve the mess they create.
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+17 #8 Greenacres resident 2017-08-12 10:04
I don't know the details about the FAR calculation but all of our schools are significantly set back from roads to fit in line with the neighborhoods. The previous architect was tasked with following the set back requirements for the area in both creating an addition and a new school. This new architect is putting on a massive addition (which I am not sure the school really needs). This will result in the school going right up to the sidewalk and being 3 stories high all along Huntington. This is very different than what has been done in the past. In addition, this will be a real problem for drop off and pick up.

In my opinion, the school should not be made this large on that site. If they don't want to move it then they should do a small addition and if necessary decrease the population. It would be smart for them to spend money fixing the current school rather than just on a massive addition l.
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-4 #7 How Does The High School Fare 2017-08-12 08:36
Since you do the math for Greenacres, how about for the high school. It sure looks big to me. Beautiful, but big. Just curious.
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-3 #6 K . Ramza 2017-08-11 16:16
This would be a good article if in fact the zoning requirements applied to the site where the school sits.The local zoning requirements don't apply to a school building. I would guess that the current school does not comply with the zoning requirements either.

Also, the author seems to use zoning requirements and building code requirements interchangeably . Building codes govern the standard of construction and would presumably apply to any renovation / expansion.

Finally, I take issue with the mis-characteriz ation that the building will be three stories tall. If you include the basement (current art room) then by that measure the current building is also three stories since the 5th grade classrooms are already on floor 2. It is also like saying any house with a walkout basement because of a sloping piece of property is three stories.

This is all not to say that safety and aesthetics should go out the door. They certainly matter a lot and must be considered by the decision makers before presenting a final plan to the community.
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+4 #5 The Oracle 2017-08-11 12:35
Response to Question -- local zoning requirements simply do not apply to public buildings. The State Dept of Education will pass on any plans. The Village does not have any power over the plans, other than voices of the residents.
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-12 #4 Question 2017-08-10 23:46
Curious...could someone in the know tell me if the Village's FAR (floor area ratios) would apply to a new school here?

I mean I would guess that they would, or at least should, as the intention, at least as I understand if for these regulations, was for properties in our Residential Area to include adequate green space.

I suppose, factoring in the school's field, it's probably moot as a large part of the overall space, would in fact be green.

Thank you.
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-9 #3 J. Smith 2017-08-10 10:29
Do you really think that the BOE is not thinking about safety issues?
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+23 #2 Safety First 2017-08-10 08:36
Ask any Greenacres parent, and they would tell you that traffic flow and drop off/pick up safety are big issues with the current school. Unfortunately, the District administration didn't bother to ask, in fact, they intentionally excluded parents from the design process by getting rid of the Greenacres Building Committee who over several years authored reports identifying the school's needs (including improved traffic safety) and whose members included parents, teachers and community members. This meant that the architects have been drawing up plans with limited knowledge of how the school actually functions. Case in point, they mentioned that someone at the school (perhaps the principal?) asked them to add a parking lot, so they proposed to put that over the blacktop where the kids go for recess. Any parent could have told them that didn't make any sense. In their defense, I don't think the architects were initially aware of what was going on. Once they finally received some feedback from parents on their designs, they started to reconfigure the plans (eliminating the Putnam addition and moving the parking lot to a discussion item).

The next School Board meeting on August 24 will mark seven weeks since the last plans were unveiled. My hope is that the architects have used that time wisely to improve the plans to address traffic and other safety issues. I also hope the District finally recognizes that parents need to be much more deeply involved in the planning process for a project of this scope (almost the entire school will be renovated), duration (2-3 years) and expense (the cost is now around $35 million).
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+23 #1 Please slow down 2017-08-09 17:27
Now that the Board/Administr ation has decided to go with a renovation, please can they slow down just a bit to get a solid plan in place. There is no need to push forward at breakneck speed.
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