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School Bond Referendum Pushed Back to February: Residents Pose Questions at Special Meeting

greenacresrenderingAt a special meeting of the Board of Education on November 6, the Scarsdale Schools administration continued to advocate for a proposed 2018 bond referendum that would fund a renovation and large addition of 8 classrooms and a cafeteria at Greenacres School as well as infrastructure repairs and security vestibules at other district schools.

For those following the discussions, the two new developments at the meeting were a change in the date for the referendum from January 24, 2018 to February 8, 2018 and a possible decrease in the total amount of the bond from $67.1 million to $63.4 million.

Why these changes? Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said that the delay in the vote will allow time for the SEQRA review, as the environmental impact reports from the SEQRA consultants have not yet been received. Once this information comes in, the Board will need to have time to review it. The Board is also awaiting recommendations from the district wide building committee.

As for the amount of the bond, in the latest draft the bonded amount is projected to be $63,467,960, with an additional amount of $3,674,408 for "Greenacres Building Committee Recommendations," which included temporary classrooms, bathroom renovations, air and noise monitoring and security. Some of this work could be included in the bond while other items would need to be funded out of the operating budget.

We asked Mattey for an explanation and he said, "The $3.67mm is additional beyond the draft scope of the bond and it is in the form of a recommendation, as you know, from a Building Committee at this point. The Board will consider these recommendations for inclusion into the Bond if they receive them in the form of a formal recommendation from the District Wide committee and administration. If ultimately approved by the Board and by the community, all of items except the trailer rental would be bonded."

It was not clear before receiving Mattey's answers that the recommendations of the Greenacres Building Committee would need to be approved by the District Wide Building Committee in order to be a part of a formal recommendation to the Board of Education. Furthermore, this indicates that trailers, renovated bathrooms, air and noise monitoring and security may not be included.

Facilities projects in the proposed bond scope break out as follows:

Heating and ventilation including fresh air systems and unit ventilators: $12,246,453

Roofs: $9,606,885

Boilers and Steam Traps: $3,431,081

Field and Site Work including Dean Field at SHS: $2,585,500

Electrical Upgrades: $2,287,871

Masonry and water intrusion repairs: $1,132,500

ADA Doors, Handrails and Compliance $1,747,600

Flooring: $739,135

Security Improvements – (Cameras): $593,750

Miscellaneous: $968,000

This work totals $35.3mm of the total bond, and roughly half of that, or $17.9mm, are Priority 3 items.

Also at the meeting, the architects were asked to answer some outstanding questions from their meeting with the Greenacres Neighborhood Association. Clarification was requested on the dehumidification system for Greenacres basement, the extent of pipe replacement, ADA compliant bathrooms and construction work during the school day. The responses to these questions can be found here:

In response to a request from the Board of Education at their last meeting, Mattey provided a long term projection of future facilities needs for the entire district, including future facilities work, roofs, fields, sustainability projects and capital improvements. The estimates totaled $67mm and it was apparent that it is difficult to do analyses that project ten years out into the future, as the administration does not now know the priorities of future boards. You can review these estimates here:

Though the meeting had been scheduled as an opportunity for public comment, there were few speakers. Those that did speak raised some interesting questions and here are recaps of what they said:

First Linda Doucette-Ashman and Mary Beth Evans spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale school budget study committee: Linda Doucette-Ashman said that the League lacked sufficient information to schedule a consensus meeting. She asked for responses to the questions posed by the League and asked for the Board to allow for sufficient time for community comment about new iterations of the proposal. See her full comments below:

Mary Beth Evans posed questions to the Board about both the philosophical underpinnings of the proposal and the details of the Greenacres renovation. She asked if the plans reflected the recommendations of all the convened building committees, asked about district-wide thinking on elementary school lunch service, inquired about the proposed use of a Learning Commons, the extent of renovations to the Greenacres library, access to the outdoors and how the classroom makeovers would provide the right amount of space to achieve the district's educational goals.

She continued with questions about flexible, moveable furniture and wondered if all district classrooms would be outfitted with new furniture. She asked why the district had decided not to request a parking and traffic study for Greenacres. Furthermore she asked questions about the board's decisions on projects to include in the bond vs. the general operating budget and questioned the definitions of Priority 1A and 1B items. (See the complete list below.)

Mona Longman from Varian Lane asked the Board to justify that a $40 million project at Greenacres was the best use of taxpayer money and asked again, for a financial analysis for the renovations vs. a new school on the site. She said, "I read the article about what some other districts are doing, and I looked up those schools. In Newton, MA, a suburb of Boston, a new elementary school was completed in 2016, almost 75,000 square feet for up to 465 students for $37.5MM. The school is fully air-conditioned. Also completed last year was an elementary school in Arlington VA, a suburb in Washington; 97,588 square feet for $33.5MM. The school is described as the first net zero energy school in the mid-Atlantic. Wouldn't that be wonderful to do here? When someone at the Greenacres meeting asked about sustainability, we got some comment about an energy contract. No details at all. I'm sorry, but for $43MM I expect better." See her comments below:

I (Joanne Wallenstein) asked the administration to provide numbers on how much state aid would be received for the project. I also asked the Board to comment on a commonly heard rationale for supporting the bond. I said, "I have frequently heard that though residents don't like the proposal, they are afraid that if they turn this down, Greenacres will get nothing."

School Board President Bill Natbony responded, saying, "We have a responsibility to take care of our schools and move forward in a fiscally prudent way... We have given this plan a soft nod and we hope the community is behind this... If it does not move forward, this board will have to decide how to move forward. Can I tell you that if this bond does not move forward it will result in a new school? No! Can I tell you that all that money that was allocated will go to Greenacres? No! ... I hope we won't have to deal with this situation."

Heather Meili of 89 Walworth Avenue said, "I don't have a vision of how this new school will be used. Can we have some renderings? I understand there will be a plaza? Will there be space for the kids to stand on ... will there be a covering to protect children from the rain? What about the windows in the gym? And the learning commons ... how will this space be used and partitioned? We have renderings for the outside but not for the interiors. I think some renderings might help."

The district has hired a Public Relations firm, Zimmerman/Edelson from Great Neck, who will coordinate public outreach once the Board adopts the proposal. They plan to have a few months to disseminate information about the proposal to the community. Jake Mendlinger from Zimmerman was at the November 6 meeting.

The Board has scheduled the next meeting for Monday November 13. They hope to present the recommendations from the district wide building committee and review any SEQRA reports they receive this week.

Letter to the Board from the League School Budget Study Committee read by Linda Doucette-Ashman

To the Board of Education:

To date, the League's School Bond Study Committee has spent many hours attending School Board meetings and reviewing and discussing the bond process and various proposals. The committee's goal is to gather the necessary information to enable our League membership to weigh in on the proposed school bond from an informed perspective.

The League is not able to issue any comment at tonight's Special Meeting, nor are we able to schedule the date of our public information session and League member consensus meeting, because we still lack definitive information on the bond projects and scope.

We are hoping to hold a League consensus meeting to weigh in on the bond in advance of the School Board's vote on a final bond resolution. In order to prepare for our meeting, we need to hear the recommendations of the District-wide Facilities Committee, the recommendations of the Administration, as well as the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) report.

In addition, at the October 23 meeting, members of the School Board raised questions related to the decisions made back in July, followed by a request for further information and analysis from the Administration. In order to weigh in on the Administration's proposal from an informed perspective, our League membership would also need this information.

While we learned from the November 1 email communication that the School Board intends to have "at least one public forum" before adopting a final bond resolution, as of the writing of this statement, the date of this public forum or forums has not been announced.

As the League Board stated on September 25, "In order to develop a school bond that is a product of a District-community partnership, the School Board should proactively encourage such partnership by ensuring the final bond proposal accurately reflects community values and priorities." We therefore urge that the dates of your public forums allow community members and community groups sufficient time to process and comment on the District-wide Facility Committee recommendations and the Administration's recommendations. We also recommend that the meeting timeline allow ample opportunity for the community to ask questions about any new iteration of the bond proposal and/or any new information or analysis presented to the public.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Questions from the League School Budget study committee read by Mary Beth Evans:

I'm Mary Beth Evans, Chair of the League's ten-member committee studying the proposed school bond. On behalf of the committee, I would like to take this opportunity to ask clarifying questions on what has been presented to the community to date. If answers are not able to be provided tonight, we hope they might be provided in the context of a public meeting, or perhaps posted on the District website.

1) Are the collective recommendations of the 2016 Building Committees, 2017 Greenacres Building Committee and 2017 District-wide Facilities Committee representative of the views of the community?
• If so, will the School Board be incorporating these committee recommendations into their decisions on the bond?
• If not, how is the School Board determining what are the shared views of the community on the various aspects of the bond proposal?

2) Regarding elementary school lunch service and space:
a) How has the School Board determined whether a cafeteria and kitchen with the potential for a hot lunch program is a shared value and top priority of the Greenacres school community?
b) How are other elementary school communities' values and priorities regarding lunch service, and other spatial needs, being factored into bond decisions?

3) Concerning the Greenacres Learning Commons:
a) In what ways will David Loertscher's definition of a library "Learning Commons" be adapted to function in the proposed location and design of the Greenacres cafeteria space?
b) What specific examples of instructional uses and activities do you foresee taking place in the proposed Learning Commons when it is not being utilized for lunch? And can you provide a sample daily schedule of those planned activities?

4) How much of the existing Greenacres library space will be renovated, and what 21st century learning goals will those renovations address?

5) Regarding proposed Greenacres classrooms:
a) How do proposed new classrooms and the makeover of existing classrooms provide the right amount of classroom space to achieve the District's educational goals?
b) How will the bond resolution prioritize spending for new 21st century classroom furniture at Greenacres? And what are the plans for providing new flexible and moveable furniture in other schools?

6) How will the proposed Greenacres renovation and expansion affect students' physical access to the outdoor learning environment? And are there plans to develop outdoor learning spaces?

7) What is the basis for the School Board's decision on whether or not to engage in a formal, independent study of Greenacres related traffic issues, including the proposal for parking along Huntington and its impact on student safety?

8) What are the School Board's fiscal assumptions when deciding such key questions as (a) what to include in the bond, as opposed to the operating budget, and (b) what is the appropriate amount for the District borrow for facilities work at this time?

9) What is the definition of "Priority 1" facilities items, and how does it differ from the definitions of "Priority 1A and 1B" items?

10) Which items in the Greenacres Building Committee recommendations represent additional costs since the September iteration of the bond proposal, and which items and costs were already in the proposal prior to those committee recommendations?

Comments from Mona Longman

After attending many meetings regarding this project, I am sorry to say I am not convinced this is the best way to go. I have considered this as a Scarsdale taxpayer, and not a resident of Greenacres. In the last year, I have seen the estimates for the Greenacres portion of the bond issue go from $25MM to $33MM now to $36 ½ MM. In addition, we know that there is at least another $6MM of additional work down the road that is a lower priority. That comes to a total of close to $43MM. If there are around 5600 households in Scarsdale, that comes to about $7500 per household. Ever since we came back to this project after the pause, there hasn't been any discussion about the alternative option of a new building. For my $7500, I would like to know that my Board of Education did an incredibly thorough job of researching all the options and deciding that is the best use of my money. To be honest, since this pause, as a Scarsdale taxpayer, I haven't been shown any thorough analysis of what the cost of a new building would have been or an accounting of what sustainable features could have been incorporated into this new building that would have reduced the operating expenses going forward. I'm sorry, but for the cost of this project, I expect better.

A few weeks ago, in Scarsdale 10583, I read the article about what some other districts are doing, and I looked up those schools. In Newton, MA, a suburb of Boston, a new elementary school was completed in 2016, almost 75,000 square feet for up to 465 students for $37.5MM. The school is fully air-conditioned. Also completed last year was an elementary school in Arlington VA, a suburb in Washington; 97,588 sq ft. for $33.5MM. The school is described as the first net zero energy school in the mid-Atlantic. Wouldn't that be wonderful to do here? When someone at the Greenacres meeting asked about sustainability, we got some comment about an energy contract. No details at all. I'm sorry, but for $43MM I expect better.

I must also comment on what happened at the GNA meeting last month. After trying to have district personnel address the Greenacres community for over a year, we finally had a presentation last month. At that meeting, four incorrect pieces of information about the project were disseminated to the neighborhood. After the meeting, I personally made three requests to the district to correct this wrong information, but no response came until 10 days after my first request; long after the Scarsdale Inquirer picked up the bad information and printed it. Because of that, the GNA had to send out corrections on their own. When bad information is disseminated, it must be corrected immediately. I'm sorry, but I expect better.