SBNC Election on Tuesday, January 10
- Category: Schools
- Published on 04 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The election for the Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee will be held on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 with polls open from 7–10 AM and 2–9 PM in the lobby of the auditorium at the Scarsdale Middle School.
The SBNC Administrative Committee is seeking the election of two candidates in each district. In the event of a snow day, the election will be held on Wednesday, January 11, 2017.
The School Board Nominating Committee plays an integral role in shaping the excellence of the Scarsdale schools. By involving a wide breadth of community members, the SBNC helps fulfill its mission of evaluating and choosing the most qualified nominees for Scarsdale's Board of Education. Since September, the Administrative Committee of the SBNC has been recruiting SBNC candidates. Serving on the SBNC is a manageable time commitment and is one of the most interesting and impactful volunteer opportunities in town.
The ten 2017 SBNC candidates elected on January 10, 2017 will join twenty others on the committee serving staggered three-year terms. By the end of March, the SBNC will nominate three candidates to run for the Scarsdale Board of Education to fill the seats currently held by Scott Silberfein and Christopher Morin. Both Silberfein and Morin are completing their first three-year terms and are eligible for re-nomination. All Scarsdalians are welcome to propose Board of Education candidates to the SBNC. The SBNC Board of Education candidates, along with any other candidates who may choose to run, will stand for public election in May at the same time as the school budget vote.
The following candidates are on the ballot this year for the SBNC:
Edgewood: Ruth Berkowitz, Felicia Block and Elizabeth Massey
Fox Meadow: Katherine Cutlip, Jason Kofman, Daniel Shefter, Susanne Vleck and Gunesim Williams
Greenacres: Mitchell Kahn, Amy Lewis and Amy Nadasdi
Heathcote: Lawrence Patrizio and Sanford Plachter
Quaker Ridge: Greg Alkalay, Colleen Brown and Cindy Iver
A mail-in ballot is available for those who choose not to vote in person. Copies of the mail-in ballot are available to the public in hard copy at Scarsdale Village Hall and the Scarsdale Public Library and in electronic form on scarsdalesbnc.com. Completed mail-in ballots must be sent to: SBNC Administrative Chair, PO Box 172H, Scarsdale, NY 10583 and received in the SBNC PO Box no later than 4 PM on Tuesday, January 10, 2017. Submit your mail-in ballot now if you will not be voting in person.
Any resident of the school district may vote who is (i) a US citizen; (ii) 18 years of age or older; and (iii) a resident of the school district for 30 days prior to the election.
Superintendent Announces Search for New Architects for Greenacres School
- Category: Schools
- Published on 14 December 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Residents who hoped that Superintendent Hagerman would make a recommendation to address issues at the Greenacres School were handed news of a another setback at the Board of Education meeting on December 12. The project is back to square one as the Superintendent announced that he had dismissed architects KG&D, who had been selected after a search by the district in 2013 to design options for the school. He questioned the "pillars" upon which the architect's recommendations were made and said he wanted to go back to the drawing board to reexamine the data and address the right problems. He proposed an RFP to replace them with a new firm, but was unclear about what the new firm would be charged with designing.
In the past few months, during a "pause" in the discussions about the school, the administration sought to discredit the architect's work, question the accuracy of their measurements and minimize the risks posed by structural and air quality issues and persistent water infiltration at the school. The administration also voiced concerns about making Greenacres any more up to date than the most dated sections of Scarsdale's other elementary schools and repeatedly denied that any of the problems identified by architects and engineers at Greenacres were any worse than any of the district's other oldest facilities.
In a presentation about the school, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said that the administration had already addressed air quality issues, water and mold infiltration and the aging infrastructure though many in the audience and some of the board members still had serious questions about the feasibility of the building. When questioned about the air quality at the school Mattey said that testing was done in three to four rooms where there were damp ceilings and "nothing unusual was found." He said that Greenacres is no more or no less out of compliance than other buildings. When asked, "Does it meet code? Does it have the proper air exchange levels?" He replied, "No it does not." An email to Mattey requesting the actual air quality reports was not answered.
About a persistent leak in the ceiling and walls of the school, Mattey said that workmen had been trying to address it for more than six months and thought they had resolved it but it is still showing dampness. He assured everyone that there is a similarly damp area in Fox Meadow as well.
In order to address the claim that Greenacres classrooms are smaller than those in the other elementary schools, the administration recently re-measured all the district's elementary school classrooms and Mattey presented slides showing a comparison of classroom sizes at the five elementary schools by grade. These did show that Greenacres had the smallest classrooms overall, however some rooms in Fox Meadow were also small. None of the rooms at the school met the threshold for model classroom size, and again, the administration illustrated the fact that many other classrooms in the district are not up to model size. See the data here:
Mattey has not yet completed measurements of the overall buildings to measure square footage of usable space per student. That is, the measurements did not include common spaces such as multi-purpose rooms, music rooms, cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms, bathrooms, libraries, maker spaces, rooms for occupational therapy or learning resources.
The 2015 Greenacres Feasibility study claimed that Greenacres had 26% less space per student than the average of the other schools and Mattey said he would provide updated numbers at a later date.
Board Member Art Rublin challenged Dr. Hagerman and Stuart Mattey on some of their statements. He said that the engineers report from Greenacres showed that "Fresh air is far below current standards, the ventilators are vintage, have far outlived their useful life and are incapable of bringing in enough fresh air to meet code."
Dr. Hagerman said, "Old systems require deferred maintenance or replacement. But our schools are not that different from one another."
Rublin then asked about water infiltration in the basement and from the roof and Mattey said, "We have a hundred year-old building but we believe it's been resolved." Pressed further, Mattey added, "It's an existing condition. The building is built where it is. It will always be a challenge if the building remains there. Is it a solution? Is the water gone? No."
Rublin continued saying that the architects estimated it would cost $27 million to update the current Greenacres School while it would cost $5.95 mm at Heathcote, $2.99 mm at Quaker Ridge, $3.5mm at Fox Meadow and $6.1 million at Edgewood. Dr. Hagerman discounted the wide disparity in these numbers as well, saying that the architects had done an intensive look at Greenacres but not at the other schools. Rublin replied, "The numbers are pretty stark."
Conversation then turned to regulations which that require the district to bring the entire up to compliance with present air quality and fire codes. Board President Lee Maude said that if substantial construction was done to the building, the entire building would need to be brought up to current code. Nina Cannon asked if the Board was obliged to provide buildings that meet code. Mattey said that our buildings are only required to meet the code as of their building dates. Scott Silberfein pointed out that at Heathcote plans for the new multipurpose room were redesigned because the new HVAC would have had to be brought into more of the building and require upgrades to areas that were not under construction.
Rublin then said, "This all started when in 2014 the steering committee, BOE and administration said that Greenacres was excluded from the bond because, the school would require funds far in excess of what was available in the $18 million 2014 bond. Greenacres was promised that either a substantial renovation or a new school would come in the next bond. I believe the studies are still accurate. There are substantial problems with the facilities that are impeding the curricular and physical education program. All of the classrooms are too small. Students spill out in the hallway to do group work. Indoor recess is a problem. There is a scarcity of multi- purpose space. Occupation therapy and instrumental music share space in the basement. Infrastructure problems remain in the building Water, air quality and mold are indeed issues. Antiquated ventilators do not provide code compliant ventilation. Greenacres is the school in the district with the most need of work. Even classroom size issues are more substantial. Other schools have more spaces. Fox Meadow has a new kindergarten wing and Edgewood will have an expanded library."
Rublin continued, "I am concerned about switching architects almost three years in but I will accept the Superintendent's recommendation on that. It is very important that the new architects present the Board with both a renovation and a new building option. The issues are significant enough that both options should remain on the table for the Board. From everything I see I think that a new building is a better option but I am willing to look at a renovation option. One way or another we owe it to Greenacres school children and the community at large to provide the children of Greenacres with a school facility that has adequate space and sound infrastructure and allows the full delivery of the curricular program."
Mattey reviewed the timeline for an RFP to select a new architect though the details of the RFP were not shared with the audience. The administration plans to release the RFP on December 16 and advertise for proposals in the Journal News and the New York Times. Proposals will be due on January 18, 2017. Firms will be invited for interviews with the board between January 23 and February 7 and the new architects will be appointed on February 13, 2017. Dr. Hagerman added that design schemes would be delivered to May and a bond would be planned for the fall of 2017.
Dr. Hagerman did not define the parameters of the work for the new architects and did not provide a budget. It remains unclear what the district is charging the architects with doing and whether or not they would design a new school. The RFP will not be reviewed by the community before it is issued. However, he did say, "Now folks are thinking that we're minimizing this to the extent that we intend to do nothing. This is false. I have been hearing that we're only providing paint and curtains. This is not true. We need to be sure that we are addressing the right issues. We know that there are classroom issues. Code issues. We know that there are bathroom issues. But we need design issues that address those." It is interesting to note that in his comments he did not mention the need for more common or multi-purpose spaces, a suitable lunchroom, auditorium, larger gym or many of the features of the other elementary schools.
During the course of the meeting many residents spoke about Greenacres.
Linda Doucette Ashman, the Vice President of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association invited the Board and Administration to a forum at Greenacres to discuss the project with residents. The statement urged the Board to provide the community with information, a timeline and a plan to address structural issues at the school. The statement can be read in its entirety here:
Mona Longman, a former Greenacres PTA President said... "We were told "it has been determined that the Greenacres School building requires a higher level of repair, renovation, and/or construction than could be included in this current bond." We were assured that the anticipated school bond revolving in 2017 would include either a major renovation or new building for Greenacres along the lines of what transpired for the Post Road Elementary School in White Plains." ..."I learned that an engineering firm determined that much of the school's infrastructure was 'vintage', and the ventilation system is not code compliant. The system is supposed to be able to bring in enough fresh air from the outside, however, the amount is not adequate. Specific problems areas included the old multipurpose room where the air handling system is not functioning, the basement computer and music rooms, which are not ventilated at all, and even the ventilation in the school's corridors were not code compliant. Many of the other components of the school's infrastructure are long past their useful life. The report found that waterproofing, sanitary piping and electrical distribution is in poor condition. The foundation leaks terribly and the school requires multiple dehumidifiers to prevent mold and mildew. Also, the two story section of the school should have code compliant fire dampers, but does not. These are just a handful of facts anyone can learn just by a quick scan of the engineers report."
I read this report in disbelief. Do I really care if a few classroom measurements are off, when I learn my neighborhood's school has all these problems and may not comply with today's code? Should this be okay in a school in a neighborhood like Scarsdale? We are talking about a school where 5-11 year olds spend more than 6 hours a day five days a week.
Early in this same report, it is estimated that it would take close to $25 million dollars just to bring Greenacres up to the level of the other schools (the as-is option). Is that what our board of education really aspires to provide our community with? And considering that much of the building has either no ventilation or inadequate ventilation, how can work be done with students and staff in the building. And as a Scarsdale taxpayer, I hope we're not going to spend close to half the cost of a new building just to keep us from being the worst school in the district."
Andrea Seiden of Greenacres Avenue said, "I am here to ask the administration and the school board to move forward with their charge of doing what's best for the district's children. ...The school is too small and lacks the necessary facilities to provide the children with a first class education....All the mechanical and structural elements of the building have exceeded their useful life. In addition, constant remediation is required to keep the current building dry and safe. Water seeps in through the foundation of the building. Repairing the current infrastructure to bring it up to code would be far more expensive than building a new school. The air quality is not up to code and there is not enough fresh air in the classrooms, especially in the basement."
"Given the state of the facilities, it would be foolhardy to spend taxpayer dollars on an addition to a building that is not sustainable for the next 50 or 100 years.
We ask that the Administration and the Board take a hard look at the decision before them and fulfill their promise to move forward with the passage of a bond in May 2017 that will finance the construction of a new school at Greenacres and other district facilities needs."
Paulina Schwartz of Oakstwain Road said, "I looked at the report that came out today. The net usable square footage of the space has not been re-measured. It will be important when you look forward. Greenacres is the fifth out of five. The air quality and fire protection are not up to current code and that is concerning. Fire protection is important and the building has no sprinklers. I hope we will not skimp on things that are important."
Commenting after the meeting, Schwartz said, "I found the Board's attitude towards meeting current building codes disturbing. Fire codes keep our kids safe if there is a fire. Air quality codes require fresh air to be brought in to classrooms so kids don't get sick. To hear board members act as if these codes are not relevant is disappointing. The state creates these to keep kids safe and our district is saying that they do everything they can to make sure that they have to follow it as little as possible (keeping all projects from triggering code compliance). In my opinion, the physical safety and well being of the students is not where we should be saving money."
Nathan Boynton said, "We worked really hard to get into your school district. We believed that the community supported education. It has been incredibly disheartening to me to watch my community try to walk this back. I am not going to reiterate why it's not a good a idea to cut open a school. Go ahead and build a new school. It does not need to be fancy. If not, I am going to see a community that was balancing a budget on my kid's safety. There is flexibility to build something simple and cost effective. I would implore people not to send young kids into a construction zone. I hope we can stay here."
Maureen Ryan said, "I am going to bring a new perspective. I don't have children at all. I don't even find your children fascinating. We moved here because we felt that a community that supports education is important. I live in a 1925 Tudor but when my husband goes to work I want him in a state of the art building. I want my husband to be safe and I want him to be able to get out. Those kids are going to work. We should not be slapping band aids on an old building. The kids should be in the best situation possible."
Mitch Kahn of 198 Brewster Road said, "We are mostly high achieving people here. Why would you measure yourself against the lowest standards? Level up, not down.
Look at the schools and model to the best.... Also, why is there no public discussion among the board members? I thought these meetings were to hash out differences. I am hoping to hear that discussion."
Kyle Schurle of Donellan Road said, "There are risks to renovation. The school will still be on the wrong side of the street. We haven't gotten to the mold issue. There are heath risks and air quality issues. There are questions about educational adequacy during the period of the renovation. What justifies taking any of those risks? Does B1 provide a superior facility or value? C1 is superior. Why don't we have a sophisticated financial analysis of these two options – with consideration of the finances of a new versus a renovated building. If it is done, it will be crystal clear that B1 is a terrible value for Scarsdale overall. What are the top three arguments for B1 or C1? I honestly analyzed this objectively and I don't see why this is even a close call."
Others still spoke in favor of renovating the school.
Val Greenberg of 121 Brite Avenue told the board that the "B1 opponents are as passionate as ever. The numbers are out there" She noted that a review of district water fountains found that the three oldest schools had the safest water. She said, "Our school is beautiful. It works well. It might need a few tweaks."
Meredith Gantcher of 164 Brewster Road said "Every parent cares passionately about the school their child is in. I have friends with a child in the middle school and they have a litany of complaints about the middle school. I was recently with friends in Edgewood who said, "Why are people in Greenacres complaining about a band aid solution for Greenacres. Isn't Edgewood getting a band aid now?... I am concerned about all the children. Do what's fiscally responsible for all the children. To ensure that all children get the best education we can afford. We have to do what's right for everyone within the budget that we have."
Barbara Wenglin said, "The committee to save Greenacres School while preserving the full Greenacres field is still active, awake and engaged. More than half do not live adjacent to the school. Represented are families with young children and empty nesters. Lawn signs remain reflecting widespread community support. Our members have been patient and attentive. With new architects on board we hope that demolition costs, environmental concerns along with the water table of the field will be considered as well. Safety concerns of renovations have been addressed. We share budget concerns of the stressed village tax climate with the reval, and the proposed library renovation. Greenacres' population is declining. These numbers will change as Greenacres expands and enhances its footprint. We question whether Edgewood and Fox Meadow will need to be torn down."
John Singer from Montrose Road reminded the Board that the idea of the model program came from KG&D. He said, "Think about whether or not this is a Scarsdale standard. I think it is somewhat arbitrary. We have the highest achieving elementary schools in the state." He also said that "There's work going on now at the high school. Asbestos can be removed during vacations.... there is fear mongering going on out there."
Final comments included the following:
Gabe Oestreich of Brewster Road suggested that the board share the information they share with the architects with all the people in the community and include links to meetings where issues were discussed on the district website.
Jon Krisbergh said, "One of the problems last time was that KG&D got off to the wrong start. We want to make sure that we know what this new architect will be tasked with? That should be shared. What is in the RFP? Is a new school going to be an option for them to consider? Art – your engagement tonight was good to see. There was a good back and forth."
Rona Muntner of Fairview Road spoke in favor of the new architect, asking for new eyes on the situation. "Making lateral and backward comparisons to other schools is important and useful to make informed decisions going forward. We moved to Scarsdale for the innovation and creativity of our schools. What are tomorrow's standards? What is going to sustain our community going forward. Let's use what we learn from the past to create something more amazing for the future."
After leaving the meeting Munter added, "Essentially the Board said that Greenacres is completely broken but all our schools are at least somewhat broken so it is okay not to fix Greenacres."
Administration Recommends Changes to World Language Instruction in Scarsdale Schools
- Category: Schools
- Published on 01 December 2016
- Written by Heather Gilchriest Meili
The results of a much anticipated study of the world language program at all grade levels in the district were presented at the School Board Meeting on Monday November 28th, as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Lynne Shain presented the findings of the reconvened World Language Committee. The School Board members themselves probed deeply into the Committee's findings, revealing an interesting array of viewpoints among their group. Will community members be pleased with the current recommendations? Some certainly will not, but is there a quieter constituency that will be content to accept or even applaud them? Comments from respondents to the World Language Survey results suggest that possibility.
The recommendations, in brief, are:
- Maintain current World Language offerings
- Increase frequency of elementary Spanish to 3 periods in a 6-day cycle (without increasing the total minutes of instruction)
- Consider offering additional language instruction before or after school sponsored either by the District or the PTA, along the lines of the "Princeton Model"
Maintain Current World Language Offerings
In concluding that the District should simply maintain current World Language offerings, Ms. Shain cited many considerations. Analyzing the surveys sent out last October to Scarsdale parents in different groupings (K-12, 6-11, and rising 6th grade) it was determined that when responding parents were asked about the priority they would give to committing additional finances to expand the World Language program on a sliding scale of 1-100, they were evenly distributed: 48% put it as a less than 50 out of 100, 51% as greater than 50 out of 100. When asked to rank languages they would like to see added to the World Language program in elementary, Mandarin led by a hair with French and "None" nearly tied. The same question applied to middle school produced the ranking Mandarin, None, and Latin, while at the high school level "None" was most favored, followed by the surprising 2nd and 3rd spots of German and American Sign Language (ASL). Students from grades 6-11 similarly queried preferred ASL followed by Italian and German (pages 21-32 in the Report Appendix.)
It should be noted here that during the Public Comment period, Mayra Kirkendall-Rogriguez of the Scarsdale Forum Education Committee took sharp exception to this analysis of survey responses, stating: "The scoring methodology is VERY odd. You used a ranking methodology for respondents to vote and then chose not to use a Rank Choice Voting approach to evaluate the results....For example, in the student survey, Mandarin had the most first choices. Mandarin is second only to ASL when you consider second choices, third choices and fourth choices....Among parents the strength of Mandarin preference is even more profound."
Another consideration mentioned by Ms. Shain was the fact that as the Committee surveyed school districts in the Tri-State area that have Mandarin programs, they found that middle school Mandarin enrollment numbers do not necessarily carry over into high school. They lose students during that transition, meaning that the extra years of Mandarin instruction do not necessarily make the difference in student commitment and achievement that would be desired.
Related to that finding, Board member William Natbony picked up on a detail within the report, saying, "One of the things that really struck me....the number of hours in the classroom anticipated in order to reach a proficient standard....575-600 hours for languages such a Spanish/French....and the 2200 hours that seem to be standard for general proficiency in a language like Mandarin. When you're talking about classroom time, teacher time, budgetary constraints....that difference is really significant."
Ms. Shain elaborated: "You're right....We calculated how many hours of instruction. For French or Spanish if you combine four years of high school with three years in middle school you can get there. But for Mandarin you can't get there from here. We still offer it at high school as many students surprise us and get to AT or advanced level within the four years; it's very personal and individual."
Increase Frequency of Elementary Spanish
In proposing a change to elementary Spanish instruction, Ms. Shain stated, "Looking at elementary we concluded the frequency wasn't there." The proposal is that students would continue to receive 80 minutes of instruction in each 6-day cycle. However, rather than two 40-minute classes per cycle, students would attend one 40-minute class focused on cultural and other components, and two other 20-minute classes which would focus entirely on producing the target language.
Board Vice President William Natbony asked for specifics: "You're still dealing with elementary kids, getting settled, getting in and out, you lose time....Is there anything out there that says this change will make a difference?"
Ms. Shain confirmed, "The research that's out there is about frequency....The way we've discussed it with the FLES teachers and principals, we'll preserve the full 20 minutes.....That's one of the things that seems to hold our kids back is they don't have enough opportunities to use the target language....The best that the committee could come up with given all the issues in an elementary day was increase the frequency; we couldn't find a way to increase the minutes."
The "Princeton Model"
As the World Language Committee went about their task of examining other districts' language offerings, one topic which received extra study and consideration was the Princeton, NJ Middle School Mandarin model. In the Princeton Middle School, Mandarin is offered before the regular start of the school day, during a so-called "0" period. Students who take advantage of this offering also study either French or Spanish during the regular school day. If offered by our district, a NYS certified teacher would be required. Could one be found to teach that schedule? Another possibility would be to offer it under PTA sponsorship, making teacher hiring more flexible. Parents would be responsible for transportation, and the early class would meet four days a week to allow one morning to be available for music.
Board Member Chris Morin pushed back as this option was discussed: "It's hard enough to teach Spanish over ten years, and there's not enough demand for Mandarin as a part of the core school day. Now we're talking about adding a course at 7:30 am to teach - more children? - less children? - a language that takes as much as four times as long to learn...?"
Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman replied, "Lynne is trying to be flexible and accommodating, that we have an option in place for those interested. Not necessarily Mandarin; ASL, Italian, German. ASL is very practical and takes much less than 2,200 hours."
Ms. Shain herself did raise a concern about this potential program and its early morning time, "Knowing how tightly scheduled our students are, we're also looking at wellness. How much should students schedule? It's a family decision."
In assessing Ms. Shain's report, and looking ahead, the mood among the Board and Administration seemed cautious. Dr. Hagerman called for more from the Committee: "Let's get more information about what improvement is needed...what are the issues? The FLES program time, instructional pedagogy, personnel? The World Language Committee has more work to do." Board Member Arthur Rublin seemed to favor caution: "There's a lot of merit to focusing on the core program as it exists now and shoring it up before we go to ASL or Italian or Mandarin."
Within the World Language Report (available in full through the Board of Education webpage) there are appendices which include every comment sent in response to the October survey. The comments are anonymous and they make fascinating reading.
Some align with the view of the Scarsdale Forum Education Committee with a fervent desire for Mandarin, "key language of the future." Yet if one were to judge only from the comments submitted, a not-insignificant group considers Mandarin "not a priority" or even questions whether "Mandarin can be acquired in this way?"
Some suggest the option of ASL for students with learning differences or speech issues who may not readily acquire other new languages. There are those who favor Latin while some pronounce it "dead." Humanities lovers remind us that German and Italian remain important in history and music.
A significant number echo Mr. Rublin's reminder of the value of focusing on the core program, particularly in elementary grades: "Use the time elsewhere...the teachers would be ecstatic." "The teachers already struggle with finding enough classroom time to teach the basics."
The most expressive respondents by far are those who are furious about elementary Spanish in its current form. From one native Spanish speaker, "The worksheets have spelling and grammar mistakes." "Language prep in elementary is pitiful." "I would rather have my child sit in the library with a book during that hour." "It is really bad, and even the children make fun of it."
Letter to the Editor: Painters Are Covering Up the Problems at Greenacres While Kids Are In School
- Category: Schools
- Published on 08 December 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
This letter about the Greenacres School was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Andy Taylor of Walworth Avenue: I have now written and spoken several times to the school board. There is a school board meeting on Monday night that I won't be able to attend and there are rumors that the board is going to continue to punt on making a decision on Greenacres, even after all this time. It is because of this that I write this letter. Importantly, I'm not only speaking on behalf of my family, but a number of other Scarsdale residents (not exclusively Greenacres) who agree with my point of view.
None of these core issues have been addressed during the "pause", so rather than rehash these issues, I copied them below. I write to point out a few things occurring recently at Greenacres.
Below are pictures taken in the last couple of weeks and again today. As you can see below, facilities workers are covering up one of the issues that regularly comes up at such an antiquated facility. Despite a roof that has had its "life extended", the darnedest thing keeps happening. Water leaks from the roof, down through the walls, bubbles up paint, and in this case, paint was scraped off and an ongoing attempt to resurface the walls. This opened up the subsurface, which was left open while students were and continue to be present. This is just the latest example of what you get with a structure that is way past its useful life. It's challenging to keep up the facility and stuff happens while students are present. It's just the reality. We can make all manner of proclamation, but think of the unknown and the exposures that will assuredly happen during a three year renovation, however perfectly planned. Think of the money that will continue to be poured down the drain over the coming decades, trying to desperately hold on to a relic that is over 100 years-old, in a B1 scenario. I don't know what precautions were taken to keep students away from this, but I didn't observe any barriers. Was there any lead paint testing done prior to opening up the walls? I don't know, but I do know that any refurbishment of that facility provides poor value to Scarsdale and puts an undue burden on the Greenacres community, and takes unnecessary health risks with the kids.
If following the "pause" on the elementary school in Greenacres, we end up with anything that resembles B1, not only will this Greenacres resident vote down the bond to finance that ridiculous project. I speak for a large and continuously growing block of Scarsdale residents who plan to do the same. Further, if the school board doesn't step up and do what is right for the kids, and tries to table Greenacres in favor of other capital projects, this same block is prepared to vote down all bonds and budgets until the board steps up. This is truly unfortunate and completely unnecessary, but the school board to date seems more concerned with politics than with their charge, and the community cannot let apathy trump what is best for the village.
Here are observations from my prior email:
B1 Poses a Greater Risk to Children and Faculty
At the meeting the other night, it was inferred that there was no risk to the children. The idea that regulations alone will ensure child safety is quaint. 1) regulations get broken. Well meaning general contractors aren't enough. Nearly all of this work will end up being partitioned down to various subcontractors for the lowest cost. FACT: cutting corners happen on nearly all commercial construction jobs due to speed and/or cost constraints. FACT: even with the best of intentions, accidents can happen. 2) how does anyone know what they are going to find until they start opening up the ceilings, floors, and walls of this very old structure? Ignoring the high likelihood of costly change orders for a minute, once this is all disturbed the risk of measurements that exceed limits in periods beyond the construction goes up. What are the implications if a breach occurs? What is the safety impact? What is the impact on costs? I've read examples of where school facilities are shutdown for a year or more until things get corrected. Spend 5 minutes online looking up asbestos and schools and you will find out like I did that teachers are over index for mesothelioma (asbetos-related cancer.)
Takeaway 1 - the risk of unintended consequences for B1 greatly outweighs C1.
B1 versus C1 budgets
I contacted an unbiased and uninvolved expert in commercial construction to get his views on the relevant proposals. I had no further relayed the choices (new build versus refurbishment of 100 year old building) when he offered up and I quote, ".... refurbished building will be much more difficult to judge how far over budget it could go." The point is there much greater uncertainty on project execution for B1. Then, unprompted he offered up this, "asbestos abatement contractors are really good at letting costs get out of control." When relayed that $285k was budgeted in the proposal for asbestos abatement, he literally laughed out loud and said well that will go way up.
Takeaway 2 - the certainty of C1 being done on time and on budget is significantly higher than B1.
B1 Construction Logistics
During the presentation the other night it became clear how little thought B1 has given to the day to day running of a school during 3 years of construction. So is the plan to march students outside and across the street and then around the active construction a few times each day for specials and lunch? Through in the rain, cold, snow? What sort of distraction to the kids day will this be? Where will all the wet coats and boots go when coming into the main building for lunch for instance?
Takeaway 3 - B1 is going to create very significant unanticipated distractions and burden on kids and staff who will have to navigate a construction site for a big chunk of their tenure at Greenacres School.
Operating and Maintenance Costs of B1 Exceed C1 and Ignore Useful Lives:
The architect acknowledged that a new sustainable design like C1 will have lower operating and maintenance costs although to my knowledge no one has provided an estimate. This ignores the amortization of the upfront capital costs over the useful life (B1 will have a shorter useful life than C1, adjust the upfront costs accordingly). The commercial expert I referenced above gave me some cost estimates for new efficient construction. With that and the guidance that the architect references in the preliminary evaluation last year and again referenced at the meeting last week, one can roughly estimate the costs. Let me help out with the math. If opex savings are as little as $200k lower per year, that is the equivalent of $4mm in upfront costs.
Takeaway 4 - the BOE needs to identify and include operating expenses, maintenance expenses and useful life to make an economic comparison. When this is done, the perceived gap in upfront costs between B1 and C1 will shrink or likely go negative when considering useful life.
A renovation places an unacceptably high burden on the children and community of Greenacres while STILL coming in short of the model program requirements. C1 saves the green and is the only solution offered that provides value to Scarsdale. Put politics aside. It seems that following the revised C1 proposal, the "Save the Green" crowd has thinned out and now opponents to a new school seem to be solely from those who live on adjacent lots and fiscal hawks who don't want to spend any money on anything. Give the children in Greenacres what they deserve and the residents of Scarsdale the value they require.
School Board Accepts $1.4mm Gift from Education Foundation and Approves Bids for District-Wide Construction Projects
- Category: Schools
- Published on 15 November 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Construction at four of the seven district schools will move forward due to a large gift from the Scarsdale Schools Foundation and the acceptance of construction bids by the Scarsdale School Board at their meeting on Monday night 11-14.
Voters approved an $18.2 mm bond in December 14 to update, repurpose and expand district schools, and it has taken almost two years to secure the funds and bids to make this work a reality.
Two years ago, the newly formed Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation pledged to raise funds to build a design lab and a fitness center at the high school, and at Monday's meeting they presented the first installment of that gift. The foundation provided the district with $1,461,900 in funds and a promissory note of $791,484 to cover the cost of these two construction projects. The funds from the note will be delivered in three installments of $263,828 each on June 30, 2017, December 31, 2017 and June 30, 2018. The board of the foundation says that most of these funds have already been pledged and they feel confident that they will be able to deliver the monies as promised. In order to begin work on these two projects at the high school, the school board needed the funds or a promissory note in hand. The school district had set aside and additional $500,000 for the fitness center in a prior budget and the Madoff family will contribute the fitness center equipment.
Construction on these two projects is expected to begin shortly, with completion planned before the opening of school next year.
Announcing the gift, Foundation President Mark Bezos said, "This is a very proud evening for the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation. We are pleased to be presenting our check for $1.46 million as the first installment of our support for the construction of a new Design Lab and Fitness Center at Scarsdale High School. We are excited about the educational value of these projects and the positive impact they will soon have on our high school program. We are very impressed by the curricula and other preparations the administration has made for their opening by the start of the new school year. We are especially thrilled by the rising expectations among hundreds of students who are excited about what the D-Lab and Fitness Center will offer – and we are happy to imagine the impact on younger students, still now in elementary school, who will benefit in ways they cannot yet imagine. We are also making a commitment tonight to the Board of Education to pay the remaining costs of construction, fees and equipment – with an additional $800,000 over the next 18 months. With the energy and enthusiasm these projects are generating, and with hundreds of Scarsdale families already on board, we are confident about making this commitment so as not to delay the delivery of these projects to the teachers and students who will benefit. This has been a very intense effort over the past two years – building on the work of our founding members who launched this foundation nearly six years ago. Many of those founders are now empty-nesters, but we are building on what they launched in 2010 in response to the Board of Education's request to find new sources of funding to ensure that our schools remain on the cutting edge of public education nationwide."
Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey recommended that the Board move forward with the work as he believes the construction bids are as low as they will ever be, and that if the Board delayed the cost of these projects would go up. In a discussion about accepting the gift, the majority of the board favored it, understanding the promissory note did pose a potential risk. Board member Art Rublin had reservations about the promissory note, saying, "I am not comfortable accepting the cash and the promissory note. The proposal does not provide sufficient comfort. I hope they will produce the funds on the schedule, but we need absolute certainty. Collecting on pledges is by no means easy. Charitable giving may be affected by the election. We need the cash in hand."
Ultimately the board voted 6-1 to accept the gift.
Mattey then reviewed the bids for the balance of the work which includes:
Heathcote Elementary School: New multi-purpose room and lunch area
Edgewood Elementary School: replace and renovate the library, relocate the office, construct a new portico at the entrance
Scarsdale Middle School: Add additional orchestra rehearsal and storage to northeast corner of Middle School; renovate former custodial offices to create new instructional music space.
Scarsdale High School: Renovate existing space in and around gyms A/B to create a Learning Commons
A district-wide technology update and a new roof for Quaker Ridge had also been authorized in the bond but they were completed this year using surplus funds from 2015/16 budget. Work on the high school auditorium and the middle school music room will be done using the capitol improvements funds in the 2016/17 school budget.
Even with the exclusion of these two projects, the bids came in 13% higher than estimated but the Board believes they can use the fund balance to pay the difference.
The administration recommended that the board approve these bids as this was the second round of bidding and the prices were considerable more favorable than first round which came in 30% above estimates and were rejected. Mattey said the district reached out to contractors in our area as well as Long Island, Putnam and Duchess Counties, did value engineering and packaged the projects together. He said that waiting would result in increased costs.
The Board approved the bids unanimously. Work will begin at the high school soon and at the elementary schools in the summer so that students will be out of the school for the beginning of the construction. See more about the construction bids here.
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