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Parents Express Concerns About Safety, Noise and Traffic Flow During Construction at Greenacres PTA Meeting

ConstructionDustScarsdale10583 was not permitted to attend the Greenacres PTA meeting about the bond proposal on September 27 – but we asked a few parents in the audience to provide a recap and here is what they shared in their own words:

There was a strong turnout at the meeting and Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey, the architects and construction manager presented the same plan as they did at the Sept. 11, 2017 meeting of the Board of Education and took questions afterwards. They noted that the building committee had been meeting and that some things on the plans had changed, but for the most part, the plans were unchanged. They continued to try to play both sides of the "this is a major upgrade" versus "no, we are not doing that much in the building so the timeline isn't an issue."

Water and Sanitary Piping: For example, in response to a question about the old pipes (that will not be replaced during the construction) they indicated that the pipes would be upgraded when they fix/add bathrooms ... (at a later date). They also said that during the first summer they would be upgrading the electrical in the old classrooms and acknowledged that some of this work would be in the ceilings -- which is more labor intensive.

Traffic and Safety: Stuart Mattey acknowledged that traffic and challenges with drop-off/pick-up would be exacerbated by the construction and possibly after the project was complete - but punted to the building committee to address those issues. Parents expressed concern about the noise and heat during the construction and the fact that it will not be possible to open the windows in the classroom during the construction. In fact, windows were open last night in the school and it was a sauna in there. People were soaking wet from sweat. The construction managers acknowledged that noise is going to be a problem and recommend that they use a noise monitor to track the noise level.

A question was asked about traffic and safety issues and how they are being addressed by both the plans for after construction (specifically about the results of the promised traffic study and how these issues would play into the design) and traffic during construction because their will be no access to the building from Huntington during construction at all. No response was given to whether a traffic study has been ordered or completed. The administration considers this a "logistical" issue for the building committee (Mattey did say they were looking at parking.)

The administration continues to say that the safety logistics will be worked out in the future and punted a lot to the building committee. It was not clear how much attention the board/administration will pay to the building committee's recommendations if those recommendations don't align with their plan. They explained that no interior work was planned for when the kids would be in the building but, again, said that they did not have any contingencies for delays because they don't experience delays in their projects.

Facilities Manager John Trenholm brought up the high school construction that is going on right now with the kids in the building and said, "See ... it can be done with the kids there." When I asked if that was the plan, he explicitly ignored me.

Role of the PTA: The PTA made a statement saying that while they are advocates for the children in a general sense, they see themselves more as conduits of (the district's) information rather than as advocates to ensure this project is safe and/or worthwhile. While this is disappointing, to be honest, I understand where they are coming from. They joined the PTA to help support the school and enrich the educational experience at the building - not to shepherd through a difficult construction project. Having said that, there is a real vacuum when it comes to advocacy for the kids in the process because the PTA won't serve that purpose.

Parents expressed concern that there was no way for the PTA at-large to communicate with the PTA representatives on the building committee and the PTA feebly said that people could email them by getting their email addresses off SchoolBee, when they were challenged to make their contact information available. The PTA never sent out a communication about who was on the building committee - it just left it to people to look at the presentation from the Board Meeting, which listed their names. Most people who aren't tracking this closely have no idea that the building committee is meeting or that they have (nominal) representation on that committee. Parents have no idea what their PTA reps are doing on the committee or what positions they are taking.

Construction Equipment: Parents expressed concern about the location of the construction equipment staging area next to the playground -- with blacktop for play on the opposite side of the staging area and behind the staging area field space. Effectively the staging area has been placed directly in the middle (because it is right across from the construction site then) and they are expecting children to play all around it.)

One parent pointed out that this is a safety concern in supervising children when some are on the playground and others on the other side of the site, as well as the obvious issue of just having children actively playing around a construction staging site. She noted her own children often go in opposite directions even after school when outside on the playground/blacktop so it would effectively cut off site around the staging area.

Modular Classrooms: Many parents implored the architect and district to guarantee the kids safety by moving the kids off site. Parents seemed skeptical that the project could be done in 15 months with work on the main building only in the summer months. Even architect Roger Smith was concerned and commented that the eight modular classrooms will be on site in case there are delays.

Mr. Smith (the architect fro BBS) said that he thought that some modular classrooms were prudent because of the proximity of the 4th and 5th grades to the construction of the addition. He also said that the modulars are very nice and that, in his experience, teachers don't want to move back into original classrooms at the conclusion of the projects because the rooms are so open, climate controlled, well-lit, etc. One of the mothers who had been a big advocate of Saving the Field said that the AC units on modulars are so loud it's worse than construction...no one seemed to take that all that seriously.

Some parents were concerned about the modular classrooms. Roger Smith said that teacher love them and often describe them as their favorite classrooms. They are quiet, roomy, and have air conditioning. While he did not suggest moving the whole school to trailers he suggested that the current eight room structure proposed should be included in case of issues.

There was a question raised about the size of the field and the amount of space that would be required to completely relocate the entire school into trailers on the field. We were told that the field is six acres. An acre is about 44,000 square feet. A trailer school constructed in Needham, MA was 35,620 square feet and included 30 classrooms.

Noise and Dust: Other parents were worried about noise and pointed out that they said that they would stop construction for state testing-- but that they were more concerned about instruction being negatively impacted than testing. Parents did not appear to care about performance on state tests.

Bond: The other important take-away was that the PTA appeared to be concerned that a no vote on the bond would mean that "money goes away". This just isn't true.

Comments   

-2 #54 GA Dad 2017-09-29 20:27
If you want to read an accurate account of the meeting, read the article in the Scarsdale inquirer from this week.
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+11 #53 To Not Accurate 2017-09-29 13:00
I agree that we should "give the children what they need". The question is what exactly do they need? This should be discussed. But yes, the new school vs renovate discussion is dead and should stay that way.
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-8 #52 Not accurate 2017-09-29 12:58
Scarsdale10583 wrote: "For example, in response to a question about the old pipes (that will not be replaced during the construction) they indicated that the pipes would be upgraded when they fix/add bathrooms ... (at a later date).

What John Trenholm Director of Facilities actually said at the meeting was there will be no need to open the street for any new pipes for this renovation. Several years ago the old clay pipe collapsed and caused a sewer backup. The old pipes were completely replaced at that time and they're good for a long time.
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+14 #51 To Not Accurate 2017-09-29 12:58
No, the building committee is not far enough along for the final plan to be agreed by the Board on 10/16. More time is needed. The bond vote will need to be pushed back a bit.
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-13 #50 Disturbed parent 2017-09-29 12:58
This is exactly what is being done. People are just not getting it personalized exactly for them. The community, not each person...
Quoting Please:
Go slower. Build support. Don't rush this through. Make it a great plan with community feedback. Please!
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-7 #49 GA Dad 2017-09-29 12:38
I attended the meeting and I have to say this article feels very slanted and one sided.

The meeting was in fact very informative. The architects went through the plans and explained the design and rationale for the work and how the new spaces would be used. The construction manager explained scheduling and safety protocols and then parents were invited to ask questions.

I think Roger Smith articulated very well why building a whole new school in trailers in the park is a huge undertaking and unnecessary. The limited trailers they have provided for should be sufficient flex space.

The meeting ended after 10 or so questions because it was late and the school staff needed to clean up and prepare the school for the next day. No conspiracy there. Should we keep the staff there until 2am?

Look, nothing is perfect about this plan but it adds much needed new space including the learning commons and new 4th and 5th grade classrooms. It goes without saying there will be some disruption and inconvenience. There are some people that will just never get comfortable with this but I'm hoping the majority of us can support this project and not let the opportunity pass to really improve our school and neighborhood.
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+10 #48 What do teachers say? 2017-09-29 11:27
the teachers are the main experts on what kinds of spaces they need to deliver the education. So why can't we hear their voices directly? All we hear from the architects is that the building they came up with over the summertime will be "wonderful". Do the teachers think so?
Do teachers want larger classrooms or a "Learning Commons" far away from their classrooms? The previous architects suggested the need for much larger classrooms than the current plan is providing. Why are smaller classrooms now okay?
If teachers are stuck with smaller classrooms, do they want a "Learning Commons" far away from their classrooms or less grandiose group spaces close to their classrooms like Heathcote has?
Do they want a separate small room for a makerspace or more classroom space to do such activities?
And back to the so-called "Learning Commons" - wasn't the whole point to create a designated lunch space? Now we hear that this new giant space is also going to be used for recess, gym, student projects, dismissal AND lunch. So what will the other 2 MULTIPURPOSE rooms be used for? Sorry, but his is just too confusing to follow and support.

How can any parents get behind the plan for Greenacres if we don't really know the answers to any of these questions?!
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-10 #47 Mei Bai 2017-09-29 11:04
Greenacres families: First of all, if the vote is No, GA building will have no improvement or some patch work of improvement in the next few years. Is this what you want? Other schools could use the money too, and they will advocate for their share of the money. You can not get everything or satisfy every one. Executive Decision, move on! To all the MBAs, JDs, and all the executives living in GA.
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+9 #46 Questions 2017-09-29 09:59
What is the specific level of noise that will be deemed acceptable in the classrooms during school hours during the construction? (number please.)

For the GA PTA president: can you explain in your own words why building committee members were not allowed to attend to hear what's on the community's mind? I do not find third hand comments helpful on this one.

What work would need to be done over the next 10 years that is not currently planned for? I.E. how much more money will be spent on Greenacres in the near term above and beyond this immediate project? For example, will the roof need to be replaced in five years?

Are all schools getting learning commons (now or in the future) or not? How much will that cost if yes?

For $35 million, is the whole school getting air conditioning or not?

Please only respond if you truly know the answers. Speculation is not helpful.

Thank you!
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+12 #45 Scarsdale Used to Set its Standards Higher 2017-09-29 09:58
What I find so disturbing about the Greenacres situation is that the school board made a POLITICAL decision that it would be easier to steamroll over parents who don't want their kids in the middle of a construction site than to take on the group of anti-tax residents who defeated the school budget in 2013. So from the start, what's driven decisions about Greenacres has been how to do something there as cheaply as possible - so as to avoid having the bond require a tax increase - while still addressing the reality that the Greenacres building has been neglected for far too long and really needs a complete overhaul. This is why the school board won't answer questions from the League of Women Voters about the reasoning behind their facilities planning decisions.

Those of us who moved here for the schools would like to think that decisions are made by the school board because they want to achieve the BEST for Scarsdale, not that they're simply trying to match the lowest common denominator like when the school board says their consultants told them that other school districts that we would NEVER compare ourselves to academically or under other circumstances have done construction projects without sensible but possibly more expensive precautions like moving kids out of a school undergoing major construction.

In reality, with the 2017 school bond, it was always about how to do as much as possible, as cheaply as possible while deciding which groups of residents the school board could most easily ignore or dismiss. Guess what Greenacres? The school board thinks you're that group. Are you?
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