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A Loss of Faith

green-school(This is the opinion of Scarsdale10583.com site founder Joanne Wallenstein.) Many people were surprised that I was serving on the Greenacres Building Committee. They said, wasn't there a conflict of interest between running Scarsdale10583.com and serving on a committee to help decide on the future of the community?

I thought not. As someone who had three children go through the school, as a longtime neighborhood resident and a member of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association I felt very qualified to serve. I was determined to listen carefully to the architects, construction managers, administration and my fellow committee members to come to the best solution for the children and the neighborhood.

I was hoping to find out that the plan presented by district architects BBS to expand the school would work, that the underlying space and infrastructure issues at the school would be adequately addressed, that the plan would be a step forward for 21st century learning, that the students and staff would be safe and their education would not be compromised during the construction.

As the committee met week after week, I listened intently. I put myself into the shoes of the architects who had designed this plan and the school board members who were seeking a compromise that would accommodate budgetary constraints and win voter support. I took long looks at the field, the existing green space in front of the school and observed the pick up drill when I entered the school for my 3:15 meetings.

I was beginning to come around to an idea that School Board member Art Rublin explained at a recent meeting, when he said, "sometimes perfect can be the enemy of the good enough," and accept that this plan, while not ideal, was workable. But then a few things happened that made me realize that this plan was simply NOT good enough.

What threw me for a loop?

First it was the community wide meeting hosted by the Greenacres Neighborhood Association when residents, many who were unfamiliar with the plans, posed candid questions to the architect. They were concerned about the existing conditions at the building, the plans to remediate some thorny problems and the long-term health of the century old portion of the building that would remain.

Having sat through the Building Committee meetings, I was intimately familiar with what was within the scope of the project and what was not. But the lead architect Roger Smith was either uninformed or made a deliberate attempt to make the project look far more comprehensive than it is. In short, his responses were not truthful, and this further diminished my trust in the architect's plans.

One woman asked about mold in the basement. She was told that commercial dehumidifiers would be installed and that ultimately the kids would be moved out of the lower level. She asked if these dehumidifiers were temporary or permanent, and wondered why, if there was indeed no moisture problem in the foundation of the building, would kids need to be moved upstairs? Why would these dehumidifiers be needed permanently? The response from the architect made little sense.

Then another woman asked if the water pipes would be replaced. After testing, the district found lead in the school's water supply and posted signs on the water fountains warning against drinking from them. They installed filters that are now remediating the issues and the signs have been removed. They claim that the pipes are fine as is.

However, anyone who has renovated a bathroom or a kitchen in an old house knows how important it is to run new pipes to the source to prevent lead leakage into the water supply. This is not being done at Greenacres School. But rather than admit this, Smith, replied, "We're going to replace anything we can touch." Many left the meeting thinking that these pipes will be replaced, and in fact the Scarsdale Inquirer reported that the lead pipes would be replaced. But they will not, as we were told that it is too expensive to open up the walls and run new pipes.

Another resident asked if the bathrooms would be ADA compliant. Though the architect replied yes, the truth is that the small toilet rooms in the too-small classrooms, will be redone, but not expanded to be made ADA compliant. Why? Because the classrooms are already too small and there's no extra room to borrow to build out these tiny bathrooms.

Then another woman, also new to the process, asked what systems and elements of the current infrastructure would not be replaced in this renovation. Rather than answering her question, Smith said, "I'll tell you what will be replaced." At that point I started to feel like I was listening to a pitch from a car salesman. Did Smith really think that this sophisticated audience would not notice his obfuscation?

I left the meeting thinking that if the architect himself felt the need to lie about the renovation, he too must believe he is proposing less than an adequate job.

But my loss of faith was not simply based on the architect's response at the meeting.schoolconstruction

That same week, a large sewage main was replaced on Brewster Road, a block up from the school. It wasn't just a small section. A long portion of the street, between Huntington and Kingston was closed to traffic for days.

It made me realize, that the infrastructure of our entire neighborhood will need to replaced, piece by piece, and reinforced to me how important it is to replace both the water and sanitary pipes at this 100 year-old building.

What else? That same week I wandered into a first grade classroom after one of the meetings. I was curious to see how these classrooms, which will remain their current size, function. Let me say, the kids were not even in the room and it was tight. A wall of freestanding cubbies took up one wall, and I was told that these cannot be moved into the hall. Tables and chairs were spread around a central floor mat centered on the smart board. Since there was not enough room for a desk for each child, three children were sharing the teacher's desk and there was no room to maneuver between the mat on the floor and the tables and chairs. The floor area was so small that I could not imagine how 22 children could sit comfortably and avoid bumping into each other.

BrewsterMainThe school district claims that these renovations will facilitate the SET 2.0 curriculum that involves active learning, small group collaboration and project-based learning. In addition, a new policy permits inclusion classes with two teachers and classes larger than 22 and 24 students. How can these tiny classrooms facilitate these initiatives?

Architects say these rooms will be refitted and discussed moving storage up to the ceiling to save space, but there was little wall space left above the blackboard on one wall, a smart board on another and the exterior wall of windows. Once I saw this for myself, I realized that I could not be fooled by "space-saving" speak. We can measure and re-measure, but these classrooms are not adequate for active learning.

But the clincher came at the end of our last building committee when the conversation turned to the construction process. One parent asked for clarification on a point made at the neighborhood association meeting. Would construction and use of Huntington Road stop during drop off and pick up? At first we were told yes, but then the answer was no.

The construction manager, in an attempt to prepare everyone for what was to come said, "We'll be swinging steel while school is in session." Swinging steel. I learned that a crane would be brought on to the narrow strip of property on Huntington Road and that this crane would be lifting steel beams to form the frame of the three-story addition – while school was in session.

I had visions of kids walking down the sidewalk to get to school – or to the playground, under a swinging crane. Unlike other school construction sites in the district on much larger footprints, this construction will be done in the access ways to the school and the playground. There will be no way to avoid it. I know that I will be not be driving down Huntington Road for the two years during the construction but I fear for every parent that will have to drop their children off, or pick them up, just steps from an operating crane.

Honestly – have we lost our minds?

What are the alternatives?

Perhaps it's time to re-examine all the options, and come up with some scenarios that give Greenacres a school that is safe, healthy, environmentally sustainable, meets current code requirements and will serve us well for the next three to five decades. Spending $35 million for a renovation, as well as millions in sunken costs for temporary classrooms, air and noise monitoring and safety personnel, makes no sense. Add the $6 million in additional facilities work that will be required on the older portions of Greenacres and you'll quickly realize that the concept is deeply flawed and financially unfeasible.

As a committee member I promised to put my faith in the good judgment of the administration and our board members. However, the process caused me to lose any trust that I had.

If members of the School Board are elected to do what's best for the district's children, it appears they have lost their way.

Comments   

+11 #36 Resident 2017-11-03 18:04
I have lived here a long time and seen many boards. This one has lost their way. This plan of a bond that did not come from building committees is all wrong. Now we have some half baked Greenacres project and $30mm of a maintenance bond. This is not how Scarsdale has ever worked. Maintenance has always come out of our operating budgets. Bonds have been used for major improvements to our buildings.

I wonder who the board and administration is listening to. It seems to be people that are not interested in keeping Scarsdale as one of the top school districts in the state. This is bad news for all of our home values. Maybe a bond defeat is the only way to get us back on track.
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-7 #35 GA Resident 2017-11-03 10:19
I live close to the field but not on it and I WILL have a child in the school. I see only inconvenience as part of this project, not any real danger to the children. I suggest you pull your head out of the sand because there are many many people in the neighborhood that share my view.

Quoting To Greenacres Resident:
To the people writing about your support for this awful project, I ask you whether you will have kids in the school at the time and the location of your house. I am sure that your answer (if truthful) will show that self interet is your guide. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting other kids in danger because you feel it will benefit your house value. All I can say is that carma is funny sometimes and I wish for your kids to experience the same dangers you are looking to put mine in.
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+19 #34 VOTE NO 2017-11-02 18:17
Vote no on this disaster of a proposal. No way that we should be spending this much money and having so many people opposed to it. Clearly something is not right. VOTE NO on this bond. At least the kids will be safe.
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+6 #33 To Greenacres Resident 2017-11-02 18:13
To the people writing about your support for this awful project, I ask you whether you will have kids in the school at the time and the location of your house. I am sure that your answer (if truthful) will show that self interet is your guide. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting other kids in danger because you feel it will benefit your house value. All I can say is that carma is funny sometimes and I wish for your kids to experience the same dangers you are looking to put mine in.
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+19 #32 GA Parent 2017-11-01 20:09
The kids spend most of their day in the classroom. The fact that they are not enlarging those tiny k-3 classrooms seems ridiculous. National standards are now 1050 for k and 950 for 1-5. None of the Greenacres classrooms will come close to that and that is after spending $40mm. The administration will argue that the classrooms are small at some of the other schools but we are not being asked to spend $40mm on those schools. Also, when Fox Meadow got their new kindergarten wing they put in 1050 sq ft classrooms. Why are they adding undersized classrooms to Greenacres? The kids spend most of their day in the classrooms. The other stuff matters much less than the size of those classrooms. The money for this project is being spent on improving the wrong things. We care about learning much more than lunch.
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-6 #31 GA Resident 2017-11-01 16:35
Quoting To conflict of interest:
I don’t think Ms Walenstein is saying that this piece is an impartial news article. I respect her opinion, whether or not I agree. I also appreciate the issues she highlights. On the building committee, there are diverse opinions, which is highly valuable.


Is anything in 10583 news? It seems primarily opinion.
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-7 #30 Scarsdale Resident 2017-11-01 11:39
That is a much more worthy topic to debate. Here's my view: GA lacks enough multi purpose space. A dedicated cafeteria / learning commons relieves a lot of the pressure on the rest of the school. The fact that the cafeteria can double as a "learning commons" during other parts of the day / evening is a bonus. The bigger question for me is whether GA really need a fully functioning kitchen.

As for the older part of the building I'm not sure what more you would do. Putting air conditioning aside, classrooms, bathrooms and other common areas are getting a makeover. Heating, ventilation and lighting are being upgraded. Furniture is being replaced. 4th and 5th grades get brand new classrooms. Art moves out of the basement.

Overall, the school gets a major upgrade.

Quoting Dont get lost:
I think people are getting lost in the details. My question is why we are going to prioritize building cafeterias (“learning commons”) at GA and at the other schools. For GA, I’d rather see more money spent on the old part of the building, especially the classrooms where kids spend most of the day. Remember, the main reason for the big GA project in the first place was the condition of the old part of the building.

I’m not saying details aren’t important. I’m just saying that there are big picture issues as well.
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+10 #29 Dont get lost 2017-11-01 10:59
I think people are getting lost in the details. My question is why we are going to prioritize building cafeterias (“learning commons”) at GA and at the other schools. For GA, I’d rather see more money spent on the old part of the building, especially the classrooms where kids spend most of the day. Remember, the main reason for the big GA project in the first place was the condition of the old part of the building.

I’m not saying details aren’t important. I’m just saying that there are big picture issues as well.
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+6 #28 GA Resident 2017-11-01 10:26
Parents should get a choice. Those of us that are uncomfortable with having our kids in this school during this project should be given an option. We should not have to send our kids to private school because of this. I actually know families that are planning to move if this goes through. Plus if you decrease the enrollment for the project it will make it easier to do since you are losing space (a 2000 sq ft room) during construction.
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-8 #27 GA Resident 2017-11-01 09:47
There is really no reason anyone needs to be on Huntington walking on the school side of the building. The Huntington entrance will be closed so children can enter on Sage or Putnam.

In any event, these seem like details that the building committee can work out. Maybe the crane won't "swing steel" during drop off and pick up.

Also, I assume that the crane won't be on site for more than 2-3 months. Another question for the building committee but once the structure is up (which typically goes up fast) I'm not sure there is still need for a crane.

Having an option to relocate isn't reasonable. It's not going to happen. Where would you put all the kids in the other schools?

"There is a sidewalk on Huntington that kids will walk on, right next to construction. There is s sidewalk on Sage right next to construction. The site is very tight. Where are they going to put the crane when the new building takes up the whole site?

Parents should have a choice if having their child relocated for this project".
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