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A Sustainable Long-Term Plan for Greenacres

willowschool(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein) As I watched the joyful graduation of the 100th class of Scarsdale students this week, and reflected back on the districts celebrated past, I could not help but think about what the next century might bring to our schools. The community is on the brink of making some big decisions that will affect those who live here and those yet to move in for the next 100 years. Sixty to seventy million dollars in expiring debt poses the opportunity for a new bond referendum for major facilities improvements to district schools. Where should those dollars go? If we are to continue our tradition of educational excellence what should guide our decisions? What do we need to consider?

The prior administration had put off repairs at Greenacres School, saying that the issues were too large to be included in the $18 million bond in 2014. Instead, they made a promise to residents that the 2017 bond would be used to address these problems.

In the past few months we've heard many passionate voices speak out on how the district's funds should be spent and who and what matters most. A chorus of opinions has dominated the discussion about Greenacres, often drowning out any meaningful conversation about the facts or development of a long-term vision for the Scarsdale Schools.

The loudest and most persistent voices have been those of people who live near the field and want to preserve the view from their windows. They have spoken passionately about the need to maintain the green. Many of these residents are older and saw their children graduate from Greenacres decades ago. They look back wistfully at their children's experience and say it was good enough then and question why is it not good enough now.

Another section of the choir is those who fear that local costs will spiral out of control. This group has pushed the district to limit school budget increases to the state imposed tax cap. They contend that any new building projects should be tax neutral. Though these folks also moved to town because of the schools, now that they're here, they can't see the value in additional investment in the district. They say they believe in the schools, but that the school should do more with less. This groups speaks of maintaining manageable taxes so that older people can remain in their homes and enjoy their retirement in Scarsdale.

More recently another section joined in, singing another tune. Late to the party were the parents of children soon-to-be or now attending Greenacres School. They are environmentally conscious and aware of the potential risks of lead and asbestos abatement and lead pipes. They've read the research about air quality and the abundance of light and it's effect on the education experience. They put a high priority on safety and are concerned about the fact that the building has no fire sprinklers and the risks posed by the lack of a proper entry for drop off and pick up. They are horrified at the idea that their children will be inside the school during the three-year renovation.

Beyond concern for their own children, they see that the environment is at risk from misuse of natural resources, inefficient energy systems, irresponsible waste disposal and global warming. They want to safeguard their families but also want to do what's right for the earth.

The last group in the chorus hasn't arrived in town as yet. They're the families of the future who will be looking for a safe, clean, school for tomorrow for their yet-to-be-born children. They won't stand for a school that is not up to code and will expect Scarsdale to provide superior facilities to match any of the best public or private schools this country has to offer. These are the neighborhood's future, the people who will buy all of our homes.

Who should rule the day?GASidewalk

My vote is for the children – those currently in town and those yet to come. We have to make them our priority by providing schools that set new standards.

To those who say the community won't support a new school, just look at what happened when the library board proposed an ambitious $19 million renovation and expansion of the library. Critics said "no way" but in the end the community rallied around this investment in Scarsdale's infrastructure. Consider the results of the 2017 Scarsdale Village election where a new political party was formed to advocate for "fiscal prudence." When the votes were counted this new party was soundly defeated by a 2-1 majority. What's the lesson here? Don't let the loudest voices distract from the true will of the community to invest in what makes Scarsdale pre-eminent.

The current plan to renovate and expand the Greenacres School while leaving major parts of the 100 year-old building untouched just won't do. The persistent moisture problems won't go away, the air quality in the majority of the building won't be up to snuff, the pipes will continue to leach lead into the water, there will be no fire sprinklers and much of the remaining building will need to be repaired in the next five years.

The new portions of the building will extend to the curb on two sides of the building and will not conform to local zoning code. Instead of a thoughtful layout, we'll have a maze of rooms shoehorned onto an inadequate site. An imposing three-story structure will loom over Huntington Avenue, becoming a visual obstruction and an eyesore. Two of the buildings three facades will be demolished, eliminating the historic elements that some say they wish to preserve. Rather than address the traffic and parking problems and issues of access to playgrounds and fields, this new addition will exacerbate the situation.

At what price? According to the administration, this $30 million investment and an additional $7 million in subsequent facilities repairs will only last 30 years. Kicking the can down the road, the problem of Greenacres will again be on the board's agenda far too soon.

The answer is simple. Listen to the voice of reason and come up with a long-term solution. Consider the kids: both for today and tomorrow. Build an educationally superior, safe, sustainable school that will last another 100 years.

(Note: the Board of Education, Administration and District Architects will meet again on Thursday July 6 at 9 am. See a note from the School Board concerning the meeting here)

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