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Administration Favors Long Island Architects for Scarsdale Schools

candlewood2After the Scarsdale School Board reversed their decision to hold meetings with prospective district architects behind closed doors, an interested group of residents and reporters attended two sessions with presentations from the five finalists on February 1 and 3, 2017. The five firms offered a wide array of capabilities and experiences and the district appeared to be back on track with the facilities plan that had been put on hold in the fall due to a polarized community.

The five finalists included some of the tri-state areas most recognized school architects, including Peter Gisolfi, the former architect of record for the Scarsdale Schools, Dattner Architects, who has been selected to redesign Scarsdale Library (partnering with Geddis Architects) as well as CS Arch, KSQ Design and BBS. See their work and summaries of those presentations here.

According to the notifications from the school board, following these five presentations, two finalists would be invited back on Tuesday night February 7 to make subsequent presentations and answer questions.

However, on Tuesday, without any explanationharborfields hs 02 from the administration, only one firm was invited back; Burton Behrendt Smith (BBS) from Patchogue New York. Among the five finalists, this firm had emphasized their engineering capabilities over their design expertise and addressed how they would approach structural issues at the Greenacres School. While many of the others focused on the design of educational learning spaces, this team promised proficiency in dealing with the mechanics of structural and system repair.

On Tuesday they responded to questions from the Board about challenges facing Scarsdale and how they had dealt with similar situations in other districts. These meetings were not televised so the public cannot review the discussion.

In response to a question about the challenges facing the Scarsdale School District, they said, "We need to get a handle on the mold and asbestos issues."

bayshore elemetary schoolWhat have they done in the face of a divided community? They responded that in the case of the Harborfields School District they "presented a number of schemes and "answered questions in a transparent way." When deciding whether to renovate an existing school or build a new one at Washington Drive Elementary School in Greenlawn, they "presented information so that everyone could make a decision." They said they considered redistricting but ultimately "picked the best solution for the community and it was not all about money."

When asked how they address building issues the architect replied, "Structural issues are not uncommon. The building envelope is usually the problem. Slate roofs are wonderful and have a 75-100 year life span. It's the interfaces with plains and the areas where materials meet where the problems occur. To the extent that we can access them we are usually able to see where the problems happen and can re-flash the places where the water comes in."

He continued, "We would rather opt for local reconstruction eastquoguelementary schoolthan try to fix things. It is better to use modern materials and to try to divert the water. Older buildings are a challenge. It's not easy to run services around plaster walls... it creates a challenge. Old ventilation and heating systems are not designed to today's standards. (Older classrooms have) electric with two outlets. How do we get power into these rooms? It's more challenging -- not something that can't be overcome but it makes it more challenging. We have seen it before. We handle dozens of vintage buildings."

They were asked how they make old classrooms more aesthetically pleasing and said they use paint, new floor tile and acoustic tiles on the ceilings.

The architect then shared an experience that the firm had with a gut renovation of the Prospect School, a 100 year-old school in Hempstead, New York that had been closed for 10 years. They architect said, "The school was not open at the time – it had not been for years. It was an empty building so we had the luxury of not working around children. We had environmental issues to address upfront. Environmentally it was a challenge. Had to gut it before we could do a full renovation. Everything got ripped out. The building was taken down to its studs. It needed all new systems."

As the session drew to a close, Superintendent Hagerman cast doubt on the previous engineering reports on Greenacres School that the district had received. He said, "We want to respect the work that has already been done. Some of the data we collected from our past architects ..... We were not comfortable with it. We need to go back and confirm that there are issues." He seemed to infer that he questioned the severity of the mechanical and structural issues previously reported at Greenacres.

The Board then retired into executive session to discuss hiring the firm.

The Request for Proposals for the architects, which had not previously been available to the public, was posted on the district's website on Wednesday February 8. It indicates that among other capabilities, the district is seeking a firm that can maintain the current plant and historical character. Perhaps design capabilities were not at the forefront of the decision.

Here are the requirements as stated in the RFP:

1. Provide services needed for the planning, design and construction phase t address various renovations and improvement at the District's numerous facilities.
2. Provide services which develop creative and innovative approaches in the renovation of older buildings while maintaining their historical character, when appropriate.
3. Provide services which develop creative and innovative solutions for 21st century educational facilities.

Following the session, since only one firm was invited back and the Board retreated into executive session to discuss retaining them, it appeared that BBS would be the district's choice.

We questioned Dr. Hagerman about why he had selected this firm and he said, "They had substantial paper and presentation materials which speak to their 3 billion dollars worth of public project experience in new construction, renovations, athletic field renovations, and the like. In fact, they are the largest and most utilized school architects on Long Island, and they have a 40+ year track record of creative design, planning, and consulting services. Additionally, they have received numerous national, regional, and local awards, including those on excellence in design and sustainability." He continued, "They did address in-house engineering abilities, technical strengths, project approaches, and master planning experiences. They also showed 12 different major projects that demonstrated their capacity to build new buildings and to renovate extensively, and explained the processes they used actualize each of these projects."

When asked why only one firm was invited in for a second round he said, "This decision was reached in Executive Session. I am not at liberty to share these confidential conversations."

We went to the district office to review the proposals, and perused the cost estimates for several firms. The bids involve hourly fees for the architects and engineers as well as fees as a percentage of the construction costs. Though BBS was less expensive then several of the other firms, they were all within close range of one another and it was not clear whether or not the district had attempted any negotiations with any of the other firms.

The percentage declined as the fees went up. For instance Dattner/Geddis would charge 8% for jobs from $10mm to $19.9mm, Gisolfi 6-7%, CS Arch at 6.75% for renovations between $15mm and $20mm and BBS quoted 5.75% for state education department submitted projects from $10mm to $19.9mm.

Most in the audience in Tuesday seemed surprised that no rationale was given for the decision and that a second firm was not invited back in for a second look.

Diane Greenwald, who is a former marketing director for a large architecture firm in Manhattan and was also on the Scarsdale Schools Building Committee for the 2014 capital projects said, "I hate to second-guess those making this decision who have the full picture, but I admit I am surprised by this choice for a district architect. While I saw strengths in several others, my impression of BBS Architecture was not favorable. They did not demonstrate to me that they would be deft at navigating the critical community outreach and buy-in aspects of this work. I read them as more technically oriented and after review of their portfolio, I worry that the design aesthetic may not fit the context of our community character. I certainly hope this is not a decision based solely on low fees. Scarsdale may be extremely cost conscious, but we are also an exacting and sophisticated group who expect excellence and innovation. Hopefully those responsible for this selection have a better understanding of how this firm's strengths match our needs. It is important that our administration has a trusted rapport with their district architect, so let's hope my impressions are wrong!"

The board will meet next on Monday night February 13 when a "proposal concerning a new District Architect" is on the agenda.


#17 Resident 2017-02-11 19:20
This firm will be the district architect, designing any additions to the schools, so design skills absolutely matter. If they decide to renovate Greenacres, there will likely be an addition (and probably on the front of the building) so design is incredibly important. It is far easier to design a new building than to create a good renovation/addi tion, so if they are going the latter route then the design capabilities of the firm matter even more.

Quoting FM resident:
Seems likely to me that the board has decided to do a renovation and not a new build. Hence, the design skills of the other architecture firms and our poor opinions of BBS' portfolio are irrelevant. What would matter in that scenario is the engineering skills of dealing with an existing building.
#16 FM resident 2017-02-11 18:12
Seems likely to me that the board has decided to do a renovation and not a new build. Hence, the design skills of the other architecture firms and our poor opinions of BBS' portfolio are irrelevant. What would matter in that scenario is the engineering skills of dealing with an existing building.
#15 Afraid to Ask 2017-02-11 09:46
According to this report and the Scarsdale Inquirer, the people from BBS said they need to get a handle on the "mold and asbetos issues" at Greenacres School. Does that mean there IS mold in the school now? Did they tour the school? What were they told?
#14 John 2017-02-10 22:38
I hope the board explains why two finalists were not brought back as promised. (See Dr. Hagerman's response in this article.) If the board is transparent, they can rebuild the community's trust. Transparency is a big issue in Scarsdale these days - and the voters and taxpayers should demand this.
#13 Non GA resident 2017-02-10 22:30
I think the board is rushing too fast to make the extremely important choice of district architect. First round interviews end, and then finalists come back two business days later? And the architect will be chosen four business days thereafter (on Monday)? Has enough due diligence been done? BBS is the least expensive, but is the best choice for Scarsdale?

The board has stated that they are targeting a bond vote this fall. Even if they choose an architect on Monday, I think a EXTRA FULL YEAR should be budgeted for the GA project. The current timeline seems totally unrealistic, and it should be pushed back. Otherwise, there will be far too little time for development of alternative design plans, engineering studies, cost estimates, design iterations, sustainability considerations (with cost-benefit analysis), resident feedback, development of community buy-in, preparation of bond materials, etc.

I agree with "I agree":
Quoting I agree:
I agree with Ms. Greenwald. Based on the portfolio of work on their website, BBS is a surprising choice for Scarsdale's new district architect. Their designs do not impress me personally, although I guess others may feel differently.

Hopefully they are in fact very good, and not just the cheapest. There are many places one can save money on capital projects, but the 1% difference in architect fees isn't the place to do it.

Scarsdale should have a high quality architect. It seems that top school districts on Long Island or Westchester do not use BBS.
This is concerning to me.
#12 Bring Back Gisolfi 2017-02-10 17:41
BBS is a great choice in architect -- if we want to turn turn Greenacres school into a Gulag.... Or to throw out all standards whatsoever for Scarsdale building architecture.

Does our Village Board of Architectural review get a say?

Mike McGill at least had taste!
#11 GA Resident 2017-02-10 17:19
The tone of this article is very one-sided. The only pictures chosen for the article seem to be the ugliest ones they could find on their site. There are other examples that are much more interesting (see Harrison, Southampton projects). Why don't we give the Administration and the Board a chance to explain their selection on Monday at the BOE meeting instead of jumping down their throat from the onset.
#10 Frank Quesnay 2017-02-10 10:49
I cannot recall another time when all the commentators on 10583 were so unanimously opposed to an action. Mr. H., perhaps you should take heed and take the time necessary to re-consider the next step forward.
#9 Empty Nester 2017-02-10 00:21
Wow - what a shame. Presumably in the interest of saving money the superintendent has chosen what looks like a fairly pedestrian firm rather than one with some vision. Instead of taking the long view and choosing a firm that might design a beautiful new school in Greenacres, we are being asked to settle for "paint, new floor tile and acoustic tiles."Will we be handing out masks to the children during the demolition to prevent them from inhaling the 100 year old toxic construction materials?

I certainly can't support a school budget or bond that doesn't give Greenacres the new facility it so desperately needs.
#8 Concerned Scarsdale Taxpayer 2017-02-09 21:37
I can only wonder if this is a calculated setup that will lead to a desired result of failing the bond (and thus letting the Super keep the budget in check, build his resume and move on to bigger and better things). Then, the Super can say that the community was involved and the BOE tried - but in the end the community decided against an ill-conceived renovation or a really ugly, out of place, new building. I am also so disappointed with the BOE. They had so much potential but they are shirking their fiduciary duties to the community. I wish that the SBNC will find some candidates willing to stand up to the existing crowd.

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