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District Hosts Morning Bond Discussion

Public ForumSoon after the ribbon cutting ceremony at the high school Learning Commons, Scarsdale School District officials and Scarsdale Board of Education members took part in a community meeting to discuss the 2018 school bond proposal. In his opening remarks, Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman mentioned the new high school space and said, "(It) was a great example of the process we are engaged in right now. "

While school officials were there to provide a basic overview of the proposed 2018 bond planning process and scope, the primary purpose of the meeting was to address residents' questions about the referendum, scheduled for February 8. Hagerman also urged the public to reference the district's website for more detailed information on the bond planning process, the bond's financial implications, and district-wide and Greenacres bond projects, as well as answers to frequently asked questions and voting requirements.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey presented a brief overview of the bond development process, which actually began during planning for the 2014 bond project, when major work at Greenacres Elementary was deferred. He reviewed a timeline that began with the establishment of the Greenacres Feasibility Committee, and the building condition surveys conducted at each of the district's seven school buildings, leading to involvement of BBS Architects to perform comprehensive building studies, to the development of bond scope considerations. Last fall, the Greenacres Building Committee and District-Wide Facilities Committee conducted numerous meetings to discuss and refine bond planning, and the Scarsdale Board of Education adopted the bond referendum in December.

As many residents know, this three-year process led to identification of a variety of high-priority facility issues that would be addressed by the proposed bond, including heating and ventilation, roofs, boilers and burners, field and site improvements, electrical upgrades, building and structural repairs, ADA/door and handrail compliance, flooring improvements, base security camera installations and security vestibule improvements.

Mattey also reviewed the bond scope with regard to Greenacres Elementary specifically, including new construction, engineering and site work and interior reconstruction, along with improvements related to building systems, air quality and health, security and safety. In addressing the district's decision to renovate the existing building, he said, "In studying that building, we've come to the conclusion that (it) is very sound and can have a long life ahead of it. (We've) recommended renovation of the building for interior spaces, bringing it up to today's standards and looking ahead, and an expansion to address spaces that are undersized and provide spaces that the building doesn't have."

Mattey then discussed the financial implications of the 2018 bond, which is expected to be tax neutral. "Based on conservative estimates, we are projecting that the debt service to be taken on with this bond would be at or, perhaps even less than, where our current service is," he said.

Attendees were then invited to comment and/or ask questions. Marion Green, chair of the Council of People With Disabilities and past chair of CHILD, began the session by asking about ADA compliance at Greenacres, specifically in bathrooms. A representative from BBS Architects explained that all ADA requirements will be met at Greenacres. New ADA compliant toilet rooms for students and faculty members will be installed throughout new spaces, as well as various areas within the existing building. In other locations, existing toilet rooms will be renovated to be ADA accessible. Compliance also will cover water fountains, faucets, signage, ramps and other building features.

Green then asked about accessibility for people with disabilities at drop off and pick up during construction, and mentioned concerns about parking. She was assured that construction will be contained and that the main entrance will be relatively unobstructed during renovations. Green concluded by offering her assistance in helping the district meet ADA compliance standards. Hagerman also assured her that "We have no intention of taking shortcuts or doing waivers on things that are both required and that we know support the lives of all of our students." She responded, "I think, here in Scarsdale, what we do want to do is accomplish the best for... our community."

Bob Berg expressed his support for the bond, stating, "We have an opportunity... we have low interest rates, we have tremendous needs for infrastructure repair in the schools, to give Greenacres what's really due... We all should be supporting this bond. (It) is not perfect... it's a good compromise. Support our schools."

A Greenacres resident then asked the school officials to reiterate what would happen should the bond referendum be defeated. Board of Education President Bill Natbony responded, "If the bond does not pass, then you're not able to immediately take advantage of going forward with financing for the projects that are in the bond." He continued, "The board will have to go back to work, figure out what the priorities are and how to proceed from there... we have to figure out... where are we going to get the funds to do that necessary security, safety and infrastructure work. There's no question that it will delay things."

Hagerman followed up on Natbony's comments and said, "The needs have been clearly identified... The community needs to understand that bonding (provides) a mechanism to allow us to do a comprehensive amount of work and pay for it over a period of time."

Mona Longman asked about the district's estimated $60 million cost for a new building for Greenacres. "In other districts, buildings are being built for under $40 million; why is it costing us more than other suburban, high-performing districts?" Representatives of BBS Architects explained that the $60 million was based on cost per square foot, plus the cost of development of a new building, removal of the older building and related fieldwork. He and school officials then cited regional differences in costs, and requirements that drive expenses in New York, and not necessarily in other municipalities. Board Member Pam Fuhrer added that, "Related to these buildings built in similar areas, we're talking about 2019-20 dollars, which are very different from 2014, 2015 and 2016 dollars... We want to make sure we're looking at what it's going to cost us in three years, not what it cost them to build three years ago."

Longman also questioned why the proposal for additional parking on Montrose Road has not been included in the bond proposal. Hagerman explained, "We have parking issues at each and every one of our schools. These are small neighborhoods that... are not equipped for the kind of traffic that has developed. In terms of Greenacres... there was not a comfort level... for moving that forward without spending more time on the issue." He continued, "We know this is an issue; it doesn't have to be tied to the bond in order for us to continue working on it. The bond isn't inclusive of everything. "

Longman then asked about differing state aid amounts for renovations and new construction. Mattey responded, "There's more aid associated with renovations than new buildings because the state encourages you to fix your older buildings." She then questioned availability of additional aid that could be tied to sustainability provided in new construction. Mattey stated that the state provides a variety of grants for different efficiency features in both old and new buildings. Hagerman added that sustainability and related savings could be examined via the district's energy performance contract and sustainability committee.

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez ended the public comment session by inviting the public to attend the Scarsdale Forum's event, "What is the School Bond and Should You Vote for It?" on February 1, at 7:30 pm, and encouraged voters to educate themselves about the bond proposal by reviewing the district's website.

Laura Halligan, a new contributor to scarsdale10583.com, is a local writer, editor and marketing consultant. She is principal of Pinch Hit Prose and provides communications services to entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits.

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