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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)

Comments   

-7 #14 Jane Smith 2017-06-30 13:17
you can hopefully keep lead out of water using filters. You can hopefully keep moisture at bay with dehumidifiers. There are many problems that can be worked around. It is true that it wrong to say that the old part of the building is untouched - it will get a fantastic coat of paint. The question remains whether it is worth 3 years and $40mm to achieve an old building filled with work arounds. The Greenacres can be kept standing for 15 more years. The question is whether it makes sense to spend all this money to make that happen.
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+7 #13 K. Ramza 2017-06-30 11:31
I would like to point out the following:
- Lead in the water is not an issue at GA. There are filters in place where necessary and GA has less problems in this area than other schools.
- Air quality at GA has been tested and is safe. As part of a renovation, it will upgraded even further with new classroom units.
- The proposed renovation does not leave "major" parts of the older building untouched. All interior areas of the building will be renovated.
- Moisture problems at GA are no longer an issue. They are fully under control which has been confirmed by the current and former architects and Administration many times.
- The library will be renovated and expanded with the help of significant funds raised by private donors. The town will only contribute a portion of the total project costs.
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+8 #12 Valerie Greenberg 2017-06-29 19:36
Quoting To Valerie Greenberg:
You should clarify by saying that your kids will be out of the school before any this project. Your kids are not the ones that your group is negatively impacting.


Not sure who wrote this comment - I didn't see a name. But I will respond. Zoe will be out of Greenacres during this renovation - true. But she will likely be in the Middle School or High School when they are renovated, depending on when that work is done. And she was in Greenacres in the past when it was renovated as were my boys.
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-11 #11 To Valerie Greenberg 2017-06-29 17:02
You should clarify by saying that your kids will be out of the school before any this project. Your kids are not the ones that your group is negatively impacting.
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+15 #10 Valerie Greenberg 2017-06-29 15:48
To Wei Bani, the truth is that Greenacres and the older schools were found to have far SAFER water than Heathcote and Quaker Ridge, which are newer construction! That is the truth. The air quality in Greenacres has been tested time and again, and safe and fine. That is the truth. And the truth is that all spaces that will be used by the children are slated to be revamped and updated under the BBS proposal to renovate Greenacres. So to say that large parts of the school will go untouched is not being truthful. Knocking down a school and building a brand new one, and then doing major site work to level the slope upon which the building sits is not necessarily more environmentally conscious. I would argue it is far less environmentally conscious. Greenacres' water problems are less severe than those of the newer schools. The loudest voices do not all live near the school and care only about their views. My voice is pretty loud and I live many blocks from the school. It's pretty nasty to imply that I don't want what is best for Greenacres students and the community -- that I care only about myself. The vast majority of my friends do not live near the school, and they want renovation. Please let's have a conversation based on facts.
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-11 #9 Joanne Wallenstein 2017-06-29 14:18
Thanks so much to all of you raising valid points about the bond proposal. It seems that many of you are calling me out personally. If you want to include a comment here, use your REAL name. I am fully aware that many of you are using pseudonyms - if you include your real name - and even your street address - we can attribute your comment to you and have an honest discussion. If you don't use your name, I will decide whether or not to post your comment.
Thank you,
Joanne
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+11 #8 D. Smith 2017-06-29 11:32
I am not attacking Joanne. She has often attacked various members of the Scarsdale community on this site. IIf she can dish out attacks, she should be ready to accep people disagreeing with her. And yes, let us stick to the facts. The architects have stated that there is no need to build a new Greenacres School. Why should a beautiful structure which is sound be torn down, because a minority of residents want a new school. Should we also tear down the high school and other schools in Scarsdale as soon as they are 100 years old? If taxpayers' money is used to build a new school what are we sacrificing? Not improving math, science, and foreign language instruction at the elementary and middle schools? Does Joanne or anyone really know what the community wants? What are Scarsdale's values? Let's get some facts. The onslaught of 'build a new school' opinions pieces on this site often have more emotion than facts.

Quoting Calm voice:
To #3 D. Smith:
Can't we just discuss the facts & issue here? I notice that you have been personally attacking Joane W. it is a common place for residents to discuss village wide issues, if you can make a valid point, then do it. Otherwise no need to get unpleasant here. Not cool.
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+15 #7 S. Mote 2017-06-28 21:52
Dear Alleged Calm Voice,

How is D. Smith attacking Ms. Wallenstein? If you read this opinion piece, Ms. Wallenstein brings up the Scarsdale Village election. What does it have to do with the debate about district wide facilities renovation or the debate about whether Greenacres needs a new school or a renovation? Quoting Calm voice:
To #3 D. Smith:
Can't we just discuss the facts & issue here? I notice that you have been personally attacking Joane W. it is a common place for residents to discuss village wide issues, if you can make a valid point, then do it. Otherwise no need to get unpleasant here. Not cool.
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-3 #6 Joanne Wallenstein 2017-06-28 21:47
Lead was found in the water at the schools and filters have been installed on the water fountains and sinks to remediate it. Long term they will need new pipes.
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+13 #5 Bill Popham 2017-06-28 21:42
I'm pretty sure the water has been tested and verified as safe at Greenacres. The architects retained by the district would refute many of the claims made here.
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