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Young Parents Object to a School Renovation with the Kids Inside

school construction(Updated on 6-14) With the prospect of an extensive renovation spanning three summers at Greenacres School, parents with children who would be in the school during the renovation turned out in force to speak at a school board meeting on Monday night June 12. Though the Board of Education's last meeting of the year already had a lengthy agenda, everyone who came was given the opportunity to speak for three minutes. The comment period preceded a presentation from architects BBS in which they ultimately proposed renovations to the interior of the hundred year-old school along with two additions, one on Putnam Avenue and the other on Huntington Avenue.

These parents with young children along with other residents spoke at length to the board and the superintendents, presenting their reasons for favoring a new school.

Below are excerpts from their comments along with several from those who favor the renovation of the existing school:

Jon Krisbergh of Greenacres Avenue made a lengthy statement. He said, "I have done a lot of thinking over the past several weeks about Greenacres. To be honest, as you probably know from my writing and previous comments here, I got involved in this issue because I have serious concerns with the safety of the children with a renovation that keeps the kids in place. I have also highlighted what I think are the shortfalls of the various proposals for renovation. And while those things remain relevant to me, I realized that the reason I am so devoted to this has transformed. I really have come to understand and believe that this is a once in a life opportunity that we - you, me, Scarsdale - have to do something exceptional and to leave our mark of excellence on our schools and community. We have the chance to not only help Greenacres, but to pursue a project that is inspirational, innovative, and a source of pride for all of Scarsdale.

It seems that we are putting a lot effort into justifying an inadequate renovation. The new tack of saying well, Greenacres is just as bad as other schools misses the point – and places us, as a district, in a race to the bottom. That is NOT Scarsdale. And the problem is that there is so much noise around this issue, the community-at-large can't understand what is happening and those of us who are engaged are stuck in trench-warfare stuck with our thinking buried in the weeds.

But take a step back. Go back three years, five years, ten years, people were excited about the 2019 bond which would allow for a major project at Greenacres that would transform the school into a modern facility. Even the B design - though it turned out not to be the case - was sold as something that would be as good as a new school. Now, we are proposing leaving most of the school as is and merely cramming some extra space on to the building.

Instead of spending money in an ill-fated attempt to keep our schools at barely functional, let's do something exciting and great. Think of what we can do if we gave a grade-A architect the freedom to create a model school with the thinking of all of the best practices of current educational pedagogy and structural engineering – there is no longer talk of greatness; only "trust us, this will make Greenacres as bad as the second worst school in the District."

Let's take the model program and design a school that really works. A new school could easily meet or exceed those requirements. With classrooms that not only have space for full programming but the latest technology built in with flexibility for the next generation of advancements. Socket-placement should not constrain our ability to provide our students with the latest and greatest technology. Real maker space designed from the beginning to be used in that capacity instead of retrofitting other space.

Let's bring the schools up to code - not because GA is worse than other schools but because it's the right thing to do and because we have the opportunity to do so. Build a school with great and new infrastructure that not only saves costs but saves the planet. We can design a school with sustainable design in mind. The previous proposal included a geo thermal heating and cooling system. I mean, wow! So, we can address the current demand for AC in the schools and do it in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. Why are we not shouting this from the mountaintop!?

Inspired by last night's Tony's, I'll leave you with some lines from a popular historical show:

Legacy. What is a legacy?
It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
You let us make a difference
A place where we can leave our fingerprints and rise up
Wise up. Eyes up.

I pose to you all the question of what you want your legacy to be. Members of the Board, what do you want your legacy from your time on the School Board to be. Dr Hagerman, what do you want your legacy to be? An exceptional school or a failed and inadequate renovation that may harm our children only to have to spend more on Greenacres in the future. Please put a new school option back on the table so that you can leave your fingerprints on our schools and all of Scarsdale can Rise Up! "

Former Village Trustee Bill Stern of Rural Drive said he was "disappointed that the survey did not explore the building of a new school." He pulled out a guide from the EPA called, the "Sensible Guide for Healthier School Renovation," and said it would be a folly to renovate a school with lead paint, radon PCB's and asbestos hidden in the walls. He said the indoor air would be compromised and leave children susceptible to environmental hazards. He said, "I would rather you raise my taxes and build a LEED certified building that would be a benchmark of what Scarsdale stands for.

Speaking for the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, Linda Doucette Ashman posed questions about the process of determining what would be build asking who was involved? What decisions were made and when will this information be available to the public? Who were the experts and were teachers and students consulted? What led to the determination that Greenacres should be renovated without presenting the option for a new school?

Lynn Marvin, the immediate past president of the Greenacres PTA said she has a 1st and 3rd grader in the school and one entering kindergarten in the fall. About the school she said, "I don't think the options and analysis are out there. We want that analysis done. To say the noise and dust during a renovation will not impact the kids is crazy. What about traffic safety? The only green space around the school is Putnam Road where the addition will be. Where are kids going to wait to be picked up? Where will the construction equipment be? I think these decisions should be made collaboratively. Please look at that seriously – raise our taxes – lets innovate! People will get on board."

Speaking as chair of the LWVS committee on facilities, Mary Beth Evans said, "How will the survey responses be reliably used? What educational philosophy and pedagogical goals inform the proposal? What research will be used to define the criteria? What elementary school design research will be used? What are the district's plan for outreach to Greenacres residents and the wider community?

Brittany Harris of 4 Windmill Circle explained that she had just closed on her house that took 2.5 years to build. She said she was recently at kindergarten orientation at Greenacres and was "Blown away by the teachers and the staff. " She said, "I hope we can provide the facility they deserve. How will my daughter learn she is entering kindergarten. The construction will be a disruption to routine. I am not convinced that this is okay."

Brad Cetron of Oxford Road said he has two little kids and is "frustrated at the lack of transparency and vision." He said, "I hoped to have a facts and data-driven conversation. Instead, the prospect of a new school was summarily dismissed. BBS says we will leave the children in the school during the renovation where they will be exposed to asbestos, mercury, mold, and sealants. The EPA Guide says that "Children are especially susceptible to environment hazards. I have long been a proponent of architectural preservation – but I see a stronger case for a new building. I implore you to consider a new building. We need a 21st century Greenacres. We are looking to you to provide the vision for a superior education and the vision to bring it about."

Deborah Benzel of Brookby Road said, "We have lost sight of what is important. We are spending money on other schools that are not a priority and are not desired. Facility investment does not need to be equal across all schools. We should not miss our chance to build a new school. Squeezing 15 more years out of a school is not fiscally responsible. It doesn't make sense to put a bandaid on now. A new school is innovative and moves all of Scarsdale forward."

Pam Rubin of Cohawney Road spoke on behalf of herself and Diane Greenwald. She said, "We would support a bond just devoted to Greenacres and we would support a new school. As a member of the building steering committee for the 2014 bond we made a commitment to invest in Greenacres. It is their turn and it is fair. The last bond was developed through a robust process. We are confused by the BBS concept of commons space – which seems more appropriate for high school than elementary school. At Greenacres, water issues will forever be a problem and the site is limited. It continues to be reasonable to consider a new school as an option. Let's stay open to the option of something new. Show us something that makes sense and meets our education values." See her full remarks here:

J Rahmani of Sage Terrace said he was a research analyst covering commercial real estate. He said, "all properties face obsolescence and there comes a time when replacement makes sense. The current analysis is short sighted. The community will react – people will take their kids out and put them in private schools."

Laura O'Connel of Brewster Road said "I am devastated, angry and frustrated. My son cannot be in the school under renovation. I moved here for the excellence that Scarsdale is -- I thought we were promised a proposal for a new school – I don't think a renovation makes sense. Where is that proposal? I will not be sending my son there and I think I am in big company. I will not support the bond. I am disappointed that my child does not come first. Why subject our children to this?"

Nathan Boynton of Brite Avenue said, "I share the frustration. I see an attempt to create a predetermined outcome. I am willing to hear it out but my kids will not go there when its renovated. That's very frustrating because that's why we came here. All the things before in the engineering report have now been dismissed. You need to be prepared – people won't show up."

Laura Greenfield of 15Windmill Lane said she is a new resident with two young children. She explained that she is a full time working mom who works on financing construction projects, managing $4 billion in loans." She said, "I finance renovations and ground up construction and know that renovations often have major cost overruns. The contingencies you show are inadequate – there are often cost overrun of 30-40% for renovations. I don't like to visit building sites because accidents happen. We can't take that chance here. We moved here for the schools – lets make the facility innovative too."

Jade Romani of Sage Terrace said, my kids are 4 and 6. We chose this town because I believed it was the best educational system in Westchester. We have a great opportunity to build a state of the art facility – it will benefit all of Scardsale, not just Greenacres."

Judith Schiamberg of Elm Road explained that between herself and her two sisters they had 8 children in the Scarsdale Schools. Her grandfather was the architect for the Heathcote School and he was committed to seeing a building that would be an education jewel. She said that as a teacher she works in a building that has been cobbled together and is not flexible, causing a scramble for space.... Saying "the building could not consider what the future would hold." She said, "I want to see a proposal for a new school. I don't want to see my kids in cobbled together space."

Adam Vivo recently signed a contract to move to Greenacres Avenue with his five year-old and 18 month-old children. He said, "I am coming here because of a dedication to education. I was surprised to find that the new school was off the table. I am a parent and a child psychologist. Think about what's in the best interest of the children. How could this be in their best interest? Look at both of these options and think of an option that telegraphs into the future."

Mona Longman said "My kids are out of the schools. They were there when the multipurpose room was built and the new classrooms were added. The school is hemmed in on three sides by the road – and on one side by houses. All the other schools have park-like settings and could expand. Greenacres has always been locked in. It has curb appeal now – what is it going to look like? An eyesore that will affect the neighborhoods? Lack of options has always been a problem. We have the opportunity to move it across the street – where there are options down the road. We have to look long term."

Kyle Shirley questioned the contingencies in the proposals that were the same for both new construction and the renovation. He said, "There's a problem with credibility. People are deeply suspicious."

Harriet Sobol said "It has taken a long time. It's hard to make a decision. Though I am not affected personally I do have a strong feelings about education. Thank you Bill Stern – he spoke for me. I first worked here in Scarsdale as a student teacher in Fox Meadow. These schools became the standard by which I measure all schools. 60 years after it was built, the Heathcote School is a show place for education. I hope you do build a new school. Start with everyone being together. I know it's hard for those who lose but that's the way democracy works.

Amy Hosseinbukus said "I am in favor of a new school. Why was the decision made to take a new school off the table? I thought it was shameful. If you are going to decide not to build a new school you should be proud of your decision and explain why you did it....A new school will last – there's really not a question. We want a comparative analysis. Lets see the real numbers and we will get behind it. I am heartened by all of Scarsdale that comes to these meetings."

Raf Ezratty of 97 Garden Road said, "We need to look at the cost benefits. Equity is ridiculous. Everyone knows – we don't have to kid everyone! What is the most optimal situation? I haven't heard about closing the street. Let's look at it from a business standpoint – it is really hard to imagine that we can't close Huntington Avenue. If we need to fight the state, we can do it. We can make a lot of people happy.

Anne Moretti, a realtor and an empty nester who lives in Heathcote said, "Our educational system is what outsiders value most. All of my buyers were drawn here for the quality of the education and the schools -- they come for the schools and stay because of the community. When prospective buyers visit Scarsdale we show off the library and the pool, but the schools are their number one priority. In the proposal, I have not seen anything about educational excellence and how we will achieve this. We are on a quest to stay on the cutting edge. I am in competition with other communities every day. I am asked about schools, technologies, access to computers, language instruction. My question to you is what model 21st century elementary schools were visited or explored online to inform your perspective on what was needed for Greenacres? And can you share that list with the community to better form our perspective on the current proposal? Note that our Library Board, in order to inform it's vision and plan design, visited countless libraries all over the region to get a sense of what was being done by others.

Some waited until the end of the presentation and board discussion to speak which was well after 11 pm.

Ron Schulhof said "I want to comment on the process over the summer. As a resident and a voter I am uncomfortable about how we will get to a decision in just three months. We need more time – this is a $60 million bond. In December, I will need to feel that it was thought through."

Tony Corrigio of Brite Avenue agreed with Ron on the timing. He said, "We have questions based on what we heard tonight. In the last weeks over 300 people asked you to properly evaluate a fully loaded renovation vs. a new school. It's $38 million for the renovation – without the cost of trailers. We're comparing $40 million to an analysis for a new school that is based on one square footage number. We all know there are economies of scale that come from building a big project. We really need to understand the numbers. Think about the energy and maintenance savings of a new building. We have this one time opportunity to build a new school. We must have these numbers out in the community looking at 30-50 years.

Chris Marvin of Elm Road said that the information flow has been lacking. He said, "I think in an ideal world the PTA would represent parents. We have received no information from the PTA. This is not the way it should work. It sounds like cost has become the only factor that is considered. There are certain issues with the site that can only be solved with a new building. The pick up and drop off around the building does not work. This can be fixed with a new building. I was disturbed to see 25 parking places on the blacktop adjacent to the playground. Shocking. I don't understand how the kids will be moved back and forth. There are a lot of logistics that need to be figured out up front. You can't wait for the construction manager. Please ask those questions. If you look at the aerial photo, there is nowhere to put anything. Now it's a three-year project. Kids will spend half their years in and around construction. If the cost of the renovation is $30 million you need to add in the $8 million in deferred maintenance costs."

Andy Taylor of Walworth Avenue said "Scarsdale has old schools. What is the useful life of all these facilities – what is their lifespan and when should their replacement be considered? What are your goals? We don't understand them. I can't understand spending $30 million for a building with no A/C, that cannibalizes the basketball courts and relies on dehumidifiers in the basement. If you want to do a renovation do it the Scarsdale way – move the kids out and do the renovation. The financing analysis has been glossed over. It addresses the cost differential. I hope we learn more, but so far, based on what I have heard today I will vote down the bond as it is currently construed. Four years of construction over three years is just too much.

 

Some were in favor of the proposed renovation and maintaining the field. Valerie Greenberg of 121 Brite Avenue said she "supports the plan" which she called "elegant and grounded in facts." She said that "this year is the 100th anniversary of the stunning high school" where all additions have been built "around the kernel of the past." She said that Greenacres should be preserved and renovated, saying "this is what great institutions like Oxford and Cambridge do. We have been told that the renovations will be done safely and minimize disruption. This has always been the case but for some reason parents refuse to ignore the precedent of safe renovation. Let's continue with the BBS proposal that preserves our beautiful, sturdy, older schools."

Marnie Gelfman, also of Brite Avenue agreed, saying that her husband Peter graduated from the school and that she teaches art there. She said, "We all support the renovation and expansion of the school and the effort to save the field."

Leslie Shearer of Brewster Road said, "The architects say we don't need a new school. Many who are standing up her have renovated their own homes. Yes Greenacres has a bathroom that needs to be redone. But think about needs vs. wants. We have a sound building. If we kick the can down the road your children will not reap the benefits.

Sue Zhou of Montrose Road said, "Renovate the school. We love the school. There are wonderful teachers. It does need air conditioning and there are other issues. We want our kids to be safe. But as a community I feel we love the field."

Madelaine Hauptman said "I live next to the field. The field is a swamp. If you build a school there you will probably have to surround it in concrete. I think you chose wonderful architects. They seem to want to make an outstanding school in a cost effective way. You need to address the fears of the parents. I think you can create an environment that is healthy for the children. There are 700 people like us that think the field should be preserved. It is utilized all the time. You can preserve the character of the building."

Xu Sue of Kingston Road supports a renovation. She said, "I know there is a group of parents in Greenacres who are strongly advocating for a new school. I believe their concern is the children's safety. I think those worries are understandable. Can you study the cost of trailers? Building a new school would not be supported by the whole Scarsdale. I strongly support renovation/expansion."

Barbara Wenglin said "I would like to address the process. Proponents for a new school came to the party two years late. Public forums have taken place.... A preserve the field petition remains active along with the signatures. The district has undertaken renovations though out the years... the new architects made a proposal for a safe renovation. It is an innovative sustainable option. If we continue to debate we risk losing the opportunity for the bond.

Robert Berg said, "I am not here to speak on the merits of the proposal as we don't have the information to make that decision. You are not providing the community with the information we need. The survey was a good idea but you need to get out into the community more. Reach out to the broader community. The survey does not give you the full picture."

Andrew Sereysky, President of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association again invited the Superintendent to come to a community meeting in Greenacres, to lay out the options and answer questions.

Comments   

+2 #19 Melania T. 2017-06-21 16:06
Old Parents object too!
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+5 #18 Compromise 2017-06-19 19:26
What about splitting the GA classes in 4 and sending 1-2 grades to another elementary school (and maybe 5th grade to SMS) for the 3 years that GA is under construction? The District should bus the students from GA and possibly temporarily raise the class cap District -wide by 2-3 kids to have enough classroom space at each of the other schools. Maybe half of the gyms at the other schools could be converted to temporary classrooms. The GA students could be separated from those at the host school, or just combined. This way, no child would be exposed to any hazardous materials or to construction noise and dust, the problems with traffic during construction would be eliminated. Importantly, then all of the Scarsdale elementary schools would share in the burden being imposed on GA. And, construction could be completed faster because the school would be vacant and the grounds could be better utilized for staging of construction vehicles.
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0 #17 Saving Grace 2017-06-18 20:05
If nothing else, thank goodness for no need to remediate a central air conditioning system, given the recent outbreak of Legionaires Disease on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
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0 #16 Joe D. 2017-06-17 11:33
Quoting Kathy Zhen:
Some parents said they would send their kids to private school, if Greenacres carries out a renovation. Even within Greenacres, families have very diverse wealth and options.


Let's see how much of this is an idle threat?
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-7 #15 Kathy Zhen 2017-06-16 09:23
Some parents said they would send their kids to private school, if Greenacres carries out a renovation. Even within Greenacres, families have very diverse wealth and options.
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+2 #14 Greenacres Parent 2017-06-14 21:46
If they want to renovate Greenacres (which frankly
doesn't make much sense to me) it seems that the solution is to move the kids off-site. They can build a school of trailers across the street. Many schools have done it. They can also look for other available space. Phasing this with the kids in place is really unreasonable. If they ever want to get any parent buy in they need a plan that removes the children.
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+2 #13 GA Parent 2017-06-14 17:52
Quoting GA Parent:
Quoting Greenacres resident:
The architect never said that. He said the abatement would be done in the summer but he never said that the interior envelope of the school would be untouched while school was in session. If they do not move the kids off-site you will see a giant
NO vote. You may also see a lawsuit. I would rather see the school remain as is than have my kids in it for this project.

Starting on page 95 of the presentation, the architects clearly show that the interior work will be done over 3 different summers. I would also encourage you to watch the Video on Demand of the meeting. During the Q&A the board members questioned the architects on safety and they carefully explained how the interior work would be done during the summers only. Please don't spread misinformation.

EXACTLY - - Do people really think that you are going to blink your eye and any work done? Interior work in summertime. Yes, there will be construction vehicles. Have you never seen them before? The cordoning off of the street and construction trucks will be similar to the SMS right now. We will require assistance with traffic patterns and GASP - you actually have to follow parking rules and not park on Sage at drop off.
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+1 #12 GA Resident 2017-06-14 16:13
Quoting Reply to #10 GA Resident:
None of those are as extensive, or as close to the students, or as time consuming or as generally disruptive as what is being proposed for Greenacres.


If the concern is that the students inside will be too close to where work is going on outside, maybe they will keep a few classrooms dark and use a few trailers. The architects said that they included an allowance in the budget for this.

Don't you think there is a reasonable solution here? Are you willing to give them the opportunity to present a plan that might get everyone comfortable?
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-5 #11 Reply to #10 GA Resident 2017-06-14 15:41
None of those are as extensive, or as close to the students, or as time consuming or as generally disruptive as what is being proposed for Greenacres.
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+8 #10 GA Resident 2017-06-14 14:14
Quoting Reply to #7 Greenacres Resident:
Why is that not an acceptable solution? Just look at the picture at the top of this article. There will be trucks all over the place, cement mixers, workers' cars, dumpsters, piles of dirt and mud. Look at any house under construction now and imagine a scene like that all along Huntington and Putnam. For three years? While kids are in the building?

Even if they claim it will be "walled off", we do not want our kids adjacent to a major construction zone for three years -- literally within feet on the other side of the "wall". Sound will certainly travel, and inevitably dust and who knows what else.

They have not thought about any of these real logistics, and they seem stunned that members of the public have thought about these real logistics.


So any time there needs to be an addition to a building, it should just be torn down? I don't follow the logic. They are adding on to Edgewood, the Middle School and the High School right now. They are proposing additions to Heathcote and Fox Meadow. None of this work should be done?
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