Architects Make Proposals to the Scarsdale Schools
- Category: Schools
- Published on 07 February 2017
- Written by 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.
School Board Changes Course on Meetings with Architects
- Category: Schools
- Published on 30 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
(This article was updated on Tuesday January 31 at 5:29 pm)
The Scarsdale School Board has revised their plans and will permit community members to attend two meetings with prospective district architects on Wednesday February 1 at 6 pm and on Friday February 3 at 8:30 am. The Board had originally planned to hold these meetings in Executive Session, but has now opened them to the public.
A district wide email sent out on Tuesday says the following:
"The Board of Education of the Scarsdale Union Free School District will hold two Special Meetings to review presentations by architectural firms on Wednesday, February 1, at 6 p.m., and Friday, February 3, at 8:30 a.m. in the Board Conference rooms in the Board of Education wing of Scarsdale High School, 2 Brewster Road, Scarsdale; the Board may enter into Executive Session at these meetings to discuss matters leading to the appointment of a corporation.
A special note from the Scarsdale Board of Education:
These meetings were originally scheduled as Executive Sessions. Upon further reflection, the Board of Education has decided that the interviews with the candidate firms for District Architect should be open to the public. They will be held in the Board Conference rooms of the High School. Members of the public will be permitted to hear the presentations and any Board members' and administrator's questions. Members of the public will not participate in the actual interview itself, and there will not be any public comment opportunities during these interview sessions. The Board will not be deliberating about the architect candidates at these meetings. Board of Education deliberations will occur at separately scheduled Executive Sessions.
The Board of Education values community engagement and participation. Recognizing that the selection of an architectural firm will have significant impact on issues of importance to the community, the Board agrees, in this particular circumstance, that it is important for the community to hear from the prospective candidates about their qualifications and experience. However, the ultimate decision concerning the appointment of a District architect remains entrusted to the Board of Education.
For additional information, contact the Public Information Officer, Victoria Presser, at email@example.com."
In response to questions from Scarsdale10583 as to why these meetings were not originally open to the public, we received this email from Board VP Bill Natbony on Monday January 31:
"The Board of Education will be interviewing a number of firms as part of its process resulting in the appointment of a new District Architect. Your e-mail requests that the public be invited to those interviews. Ultimately, the proposed contractual agreement requiring the expenditure of monies for a new District Architect will be discussed and voted upon at a public meeting of the Board.
Under Section 105 of New York's Open Meetings Law, however, the Board may hold Executive Sessions, which are not open to the general public, to address, among other things, "the...employment history of...a corporation" and "matters leading to the appointment, employment...of a particular person or corporation". The interview process for a new District Architect will involve these specified matters and the Board will be conducting interviews within its Executive Sessions. During these interviews, the Board will not be making any decisions about the plans for Green Acres or expressing any option preferences regarding alternatives for Green Acres.
The Board and Administration will keep the community informed as to the status and progress of the architect selection process through the District website, Board meeting reports and other direct communications from the Administration.
Conducting the interview process within the Board's Executive Sessions is consistent with how the Board has proceeded with respect to its appointment of other corporations, including the District's auditing firm and attorneys.
We appreciate your interest and communication regarding Board matters."
In the past, the Board of Education sought to build consensus for facilities plans by involving the community every step of the way. A building committee was formed to identify needs and the community was invited to listen to proposals. In this case, it appears that the administration and the Board were leaving the public in the dark about what they are hiring the architects to design and whom they will retain to do the work.
However, they apparently had a change of heart about their decision and have now invited the public to attend.
Middle Schoolers Learn to Stand Up and Be the Change
- Category: Schools
- Published on 18 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The entire student body of the Scarsdale Middle School was involved and engaged in exploring how they could "Stand Up and Be the Change," at the 13th annual Human Rights Conference on January 12. Teachers Meghan Lahey and Jane Strobel and the faculty of SMS organized a full day of speakers and activities for the students, demonstrating how they could be instrumental in making the world a better place.
Representatives from local organizations along with those from organizations that reach all the way to Africa participated. The great hall of the school was filled with cans of food that students had been donated to the Food Bank for Westchester and students assisted with evaluating the cans and sorting them so that they could be distributed to those in need.
I stopped by a music class where there was an African drumming demonstration and then visited Ms. Cassano's art class where the children were making symbolic paper hands for the Youth Uplift Challenge for Students Rebuild, Save the Children and Global Nomads Groups. For each hand created, the Bezos Family Foundation donates $1.90 to Save the Children's youth empowerment programs in Nicaragua and Indonesia.
At 10 am, the whole seventh grade class gathered in the auditorium to hear Michel Chikwanine recount his personal journey from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Canada. The son of a human rights activist, Chikwanine was kidnapped by rebel soldiers at age five, and given a gun. He was instructed to use it and ended up killing a good friend. After a few days he escaped and was eventually found and hospitalized. When his village was overrun by conflict, his family moved to a plastic tent in a refugee camp in Uganda. They were ultimately able to get official refugee status from the United Nations and relocated to Canada. Chikwanine did an excellent job or relating to the kids and showing them what it was like to live in a rural, war-torn community.
The schedule included many more inspirational speakers and activities to give Scarsdale students a global perspective on human rights.
Technology Education Report: From BlueBots to "Life Hacks", What's New with STEAM in Scarsdale?
- Category: Schools
- Published on 26 January 2017
- Written by Heather Gilchriest Meili
Some pretty amazing things are new, with much more to come, as revealed in Director of Instruction Technology and Innovation Gerald Crisci's "Technology Education Report" at the 1/23/17 School Board meeting. Assisting him with the presentation were three members of the "STEAM Team", SHS teachers Lisa Yokana (Art), Jeremy Szerlip (Science), and new hire Brian McDonald (STEAM).
With a windy nor'easter bearing down on the area, the School Board curtailed the scope of their agenda Monday evening to focus on the STEAM presentation. Due to weather, no doubt, community attendance was sparse, but it is well worth residents' time to view the presentation on video here and/or review the presentation document, as they reveal an exciting expansion of the education offered to all Scarsdale students.
Those who follow educational topics in our district may recall that recent surveys indicated that "STEAM" headed the majority of parents' priority list in educational investment, and that World Language surveys even had some write-in requests for "Java, "C++" and "Python" rather than world languages. No question, this is a educational need on parents' minds. Scarsdale has been laying the groundwork for this expansion for some time, connecting with organizations such as Princeton Unversity, the New Media Consortium, and the Museum of Science Boston to gather information on cutting-edge STEAM education trends.
Dinner Table Topics?
Most are aware that the new Design Lab construction is in process at the high school, but what else is planned from Kindergarten on up? What are BlueBots and who's dreaming up Life Hacks? What might parents expect to start hearing about over the dinner table?
Kindergarteners and first graders ought to be bringing home tales of their explorations with BlueBots, adorable light-up "bug" robots that they can program to follow instructions. As they progress through the elementary years, their experiences with the BlueBots will help them transition onwards to more traditional programming with Kodable and then Tynker.
Middle schoolers consider coding everyday stuff, as they've had a coding quarterly in sixth grade for three years now, although expansion to seventh and eighth grades is under consideration. The Technology quarterly helps spark interest in various after-school offerings, and traditional engineering projects, such bridge building, foster design thinking that the high school offerings will expand upon.
In high school students' interest and options are exploding. STEAM teacher Brian McDonald noted that he's recently opened the current Design Lab space before and after school and he now has four 3D printers running constantly so that students can complete their projects.
Students already have concrete work to display - one clever "Life Hack" recently completed in the Intro to Design and Fabrication class was a flat shoe-sole meant to be velcro-attached over cleats to allow for safe driving without having to remove sports gear. (Ongoing work at the Design Lab can be viewed here.
The 270 students who have completed the new introductory level engineering courses can consider choices among next year's second level courses: Design for Modern Production, Physical Computing/Wearables, Robotics, and Design/Build.
Another interesting development both middle and high schoolers may mention is the addition of an Engineer in Residence. SHS graduate Giancarlo Paternoster, who studied mechanical engineering at Lehigh University, is now sharing his knowledge of tools and materials science with interested students and reportedly they're excited by the connection with a young alumnus.
Queries from the Board
School Board members had questions once the presentation was complete.
Board President Leila Maude asked if the STEAM group was meeting with colleges to make sure Scarsdale is staying in line with colleges' goals for students. Lisa Yokana, who teaches Art, Architecture, Introduction to Engineering, and Introduction to Design and Fabrication, replied, "Yes, the collaboration with Princeton was especially useful," and mentioned that they keep in contact with other schools and alumni as well.
Board Vice President William Natbony asked how the Design Lab would tie in to the current initiatives as it comes to fruition. Ms. Yokana explained, "We have designed it as a flexible shell so it can easily change as our needs and technology shift and change. We're bursting at the seams in our current room and the new space will only get our kids even more excited."
Ms. Maude raised the issue of how things would change as the students engage with the STEAM curriculum earlier and earlier. Mr. Crisci explained, "That's why we're starting with BlueBots, starting with physical objects appropriate to the age....Every year we'll have to recalibrate our program, make sure that in the next two to three years it's ready for those moving up.... One goal is to have common language around design, just like the common language of the scientific method, incorporated as they go starting from early on."
Board Member Arthur Rublin expressed his appreciation for the plan keeping Scarsdale on the "cutting edge of education K-12" and Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman concluded the evening by thanking Mr. Crisco and his team for their "dynamic and informative presentation."
Again, it is well worth the time to view the presentation in its entirety, available through the Scarsdale Board of Education website here.
District Staff Additions Contemplated as School Budget Season Begins
- Category: Schools
- Published on 12 January 2017
- Written by Heather Gilchriest Meili
With the annual district Budget process underway, the school board meeting of Monday, January 9th addressed questions of staffing, one of the most important drivers of the budget. Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman characterized the evening's focus as, "Putting people first, as we are a people business."
Most district families are likely to find proposed additions to next year's school staff that will enhance their students' educational experience in significant ways. Interestingly, these additions would only just bring district-wide staffing back to the levels customary before the upheavals of 2009-2010.
Before examining the additions contemplated for the 2017-2018 year, Drew Patrick, Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development, shared the news that six longtime teachers have announced their retirement at the end of this year. From the High School, they are Steven Boyer, Elise Levine, Anita Occhiuto, and Howard Rodstein; from the Middle School, Joanne Harris and Caran Pullen.
Early Elementary Reading: Key Foundation
Following upon last year's successful addition of a half-time reading support specialist for each elementary's 1st grade, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Lynne Shain outlined a new target of one full-time reading specialist (meaning an additional 0.5 position) plus an additional 0.5 Learning Resource position for a new total of three interventionists at each elementary school (1 Reading Specialist and 2 Learning Resource teachers.)
Erik Rauschenbach, Director of Special Education and Student Services detailed the value of the program, reporting it has already increased the number of students reading at grade level. The new staffing would allow the reading specialists to begin a year earlier with Kindergarten students and continue support through the early grades as needed. This would have the additional effect of allowing the Learning Resources teachers to concentrate more fully on the older elementary students and their particular needs. Dr. Hagerman remarked, "This is based on the premise that reading is the foundation for all content areas including math and science, so we give it the utmost support in terms of the work that we're trying to do...and as early as possible."
Mr. Rauschenbach outlined further benefits of the reading support, expecting it to help more students to be prepared with higher-level reading skills as they transition to middle school. He also expressed a hope that there would be less need for students to transition out to schools such as Windward: "We will look at whether we see fewer kids leaving their home district for that help."
School Board President Leila Maude asked for a sense of what comparable districts around our area provide: "Were we behind and are we catching up?" Ms. Shain replied, "Absolutely."
Phys Ed for All
Ray Pappalardi, Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics, also approached next year's staffing with the goal of meeting the needs of the full student population. He reported that a certain subset of students is not well-served with any current offering. An additional Physical Education teacher is proposed to allow the addition of an Adventure Curriculum focusing on social/emotional skills, confidence, and interdependence. This curriculum would build on the successful Challenge Course already in place at the Middle School. This additional full-time position would also allow the full use of every Physical Education space at the High School throughout the day.
Steaming Ahead with STEAM
Scarsdale's new STEAM curriculum at the high school is only a year old but it looks like it is already serving an eager population with more in the pipeline. Jerry Crisci, Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, reports that with one full-time STEAM teacher on board, 270 students enrolled this year in 14 sections of the beginning courses: Intro. Engineering and Intro. Design & Fabrication. In order to complete the planned sequence, a second teacher is requested in order to teach the 2nd year options: Robotics, CAD, Design to Build, and Wearable Technology. Additionally, this position would take on the coordination of student work in the D-Lab and help grow the program's reach throughout the school. Community members eager to know more about the program should plan to attend the next Board Meeting on January 23rd which will be primarily focused on the STEAM curriculum.
Additional Staffing: Nurse, Custodial
Rounding out the proposed staffing is a request for an additional Nurse at the High School. With a guideline of 1 nurse per 700 students at the High School level, Scarsdale's current ratio of 1/1500 is not in line with accepted recommendations. Furthermore, Mr. Rauschenbach explained that with the stricter concussion management requirements now in place, the expansion of activities that continue beyond the school day, and the pool of students coming up with more intense allergy and chronic illness needs, a second nurse would be very much advisable. From a budgetary point of view, the elimination of nurse subs brought in during high demand will offset the new cost to some degree.
And in the realm of Facilities, the additional 25,000 square feet at the High School which have been added as part of the Bond Project will now require the addition of two additional cleaners. It is expected some of the cost of these positions will be offset by the decreased need for overtime.
A New "Zero" Period at SMS?
One piece of the first draft budget which has yet to be fully sketched out is the question of the "zero" period before the school day which is being considered for a possible introduction of Mandarin for incoming 6th graders. Ms. Shain's office recently surveyed incoming 6th grade families about their interest in an additional World Language in this 7:30-8:10 am time slot. With 140 families replying (a 36% response rate), 87 had no interest, and 22 wanted Mandarin. (While there was some interest in Latin, Italian, German, and ASL, none of these choices approached the number needed for one class section, set at 18.)
Board members discussed this option from several angles:
Scott Silberfein questioned how the early morning start and additional academics worked with the new focus on Wellness, while Dr. Hagerman countered with the thought that part of Wellness is learning to manage stress.
Board Vice President William Natbony questioned how costs might rise as the program tiered up to more levels in future. Ms. Shain noted that a monitor or chaperone to be in attendance during that early time period might need to be added to the budget.
Christopher Morin wondered whether the plan was a rather expensive and complicated way of using taxpayer money to serve 22 students.
Dr. Hagerman expressed confidence that the interest in Mandarin, like the interest in an expanded STEAM curriculum, was deeply rooted enough not to disappear.
Before concluding the discussion for the evening, Dr. Hagerman suggested it would be worth a face-to-face discussion with the interested families to gauge their commitment.
The Bottom Line for 2017-2018?
While still very much in draft form, nonetheless the proposed 2017-2018 budget looks like good news for the community at large. It provides significant new benefits and opportunities for students and brings staffing in line with pre-crisis levels while remaining under the tax cap of 1.49%.
(insert Budget Page)
Note: the Staffing Recommendations Report with full details can be found on the District webpage, and the community is invited to join in the process with questions and comments at the multiple meetings which will take place through the winter and spring; all dates listed in the Report.
Ms. Maude noted that most communications to the Board since the last meeting were on the topic of Greenacres, so it seems that the neighborhood must be eager for news of next steps. Assistant Superintendent for Business Stuart Mattey indicates the process is moving along with an ad running in the New York Times last week and responses due January 18th.
The most energetic public comments of the evening came about Greenacres from Mitch Kahn of 198 Brewster: "The first thing I came to ask for is the RFP for the architects for Greenacres; I don't know why it hasn't been given to us publicly....I know it's been asked for in emails....We should know what we're asking the architects to do."
Dr. Hagerman acknowledged, "The RFP has been requested by a couple of different folks. We have deliberately not sent it out....We're waiting to get to the conclusion of the process where we have the bids in and we have an opportunity to vet the architects before we scare people away who might not be otherwise interested in Scarsdale." He also clarified, "This was not an RFP that was specific to Greenacres....It was for a District Architect and so it was very open-ended."
Does that mean that the vigorously expressed and varied views of the Greenacres community actually have the potential to deter firms from work in our District? Is it time for residents to bite their tongues and await a new analysis of the school building from the Board and Administration's new choice? Or perhaps the community should work to build some agreement before new architects come on the scene.
As Mr. Kahn noted, "The teachers at Greenacres - about a month and a half ago - gave a presentation to Dr. Hagerman and I believe Mr. Mattey about their concerns about Greenacres School....Perhaps the Board should convene with them so they have an idea before we start down this road."
Dr. Hagerman confirmed, "The Board are very much aware of the concerns of the teachers and the principal."
In that case, perhaps the community should also be aware of the concerns of the teachers and the principal who work in the building providing our children's education every day, experiencing first-hand the building's capabilities and limitations. Maybe the PTA can lead the way and bridge this information gap?
In any case, the suspense will not last much longer; Mr. Mattey expects to have interviews in February and a recommendation thereafter.