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Missing Part of the Renovate/Rebuild Discussion

letter-to-the-editorBelow find a letter from Greenacres resident Jeanette Warner:
Whether we spend up to $60 million on either to rebuild or renovate Greenacres School, the school board must determine whether it is possible to close Huntington Avenue between Montrose Road/Sage Terrace and Putnam Road.

Whether one is in favor of renovation or rebuilding, both plans would benefit by increasing the build-able space by closing the road separating the school and the park.

While there has been an occasional reference to the possibility of closing the road during the renovate vs rebuild discussion, the school board has not released to the public a thorough legal analysis of the possibility and benefits of closing the road.

In 2008, the school district did receive a legal opinion from Keane & Beane which concluded that there is no legal reason why the road cannot be closed, assuming certain criteria are met including a resolution of the Village Board of Trustees. Yes, there are legal hoops to jump through, but they are not insurmountable. The opinion letter outlines the legal steps which must be taken prior to closing the road. Basically, the Village Board of Trustees would have to determine that the road serves no useful purpose and pass a resolution requesting the Legislature to pass a Home Rule Letter.

What are the benefits of closing Huntington Avenue between Montrose Road and Putnam Road?

Primarily, increasing the buildable space for either renovation or rebuilding. The current footprint of the renovation plan as displayed by the architects at the June 22nd meeting has the renovated Greenacres School squeezed into the existing lot with brick walls soaring up within 8 or 10 feet of the street. The architectural features of the historic building are covered on three sides by the additions effectively hiding the charm of Greenacres School. And even with a 30$ million renovation budget, some features cannot be included due to lack of space. Likewise, by closing Huntington Avenue, the architects would have a larger footprint to rebuild the school. The new school could be designed without eliminating some the adjacent playing fields. In addition, the rebuilt school would be linked seamlessly to the playgrounds. The school would be incorporated into the park space symbolically joining the two functions and ideally healing the rifts that the rebuild/renovate discussion has caused.

Of equal if not of more importance is the benefit provided for the safety of the students. Each day, the students must cross Huntington Avenue to reach the blacktop and playground equipment for recess and physical education. Pick off and drop off are white knuckled times for the drivers when children dart in and out of cars. The architects' renovation proposal suggests relocating existing parking to the blacktop requiring the student to not only cross Huntington, but to weave their way through the parking lot to reach the field beyond, thus increasing the danger to the students and providing a smaller blacktop area for recess. By closing Huntington Avenue, the renovation could incorporate an attractive and safe area for pick off and drop off without eliminating any of the playing fields. Further, the layout for a new Greenacres school as presented at the June 22nd meeting does nothing to address the above safety issues. While the architect agreed to examine safety issues in its next revisions, any provision for a dedicated pick off and drop off space in the rebuilt Greenacres school would eliminate some of the playing fields thus decreasing the space for the students and the community to use the playing fields. Both the renovation and rebuilding options would benefit from the additional space to incorporate a safe and attractive location for drop off and pick up.

Both the Village Manager and the Village Attorney suggest that the threshold issue as to whether the road can be closed would be a safety/traffic study. Only with a traffic/safety study can the Village Trustees determine whether this portion of Huntington Avenue truly serves a useful purpose in light of the safety benefits achieved by closing. I've spoken to FP Clark in Rye, a planning consultant which has provided for the Village and School District traffic and safety studies in the past. From my conversation, a traffic and safety study would need to be done while school is in session. They suggest beginning no earlier than the third week of school when school traffic is normalized. With the intervention of the Jewish holidays, the study would be completed mid-October. Estimated cost of such a study would be around $8000.

Before the Village spends either $30 million on renovation or $60 million on a new building, the Village would benefit from learning whether Huntington Avenue can be closed. We need to take the final decision on the Greenacres rebuild/ renovate off the table while we determine whether it's possible to increase the buildable space and increase the safety of our students by closing the street. The delay is only a few months and the cost is very minor while the potential benefits, most importantly, the increase in safety of the children during pick up and drop off and recess is overwhelming.

Sincerely,

Jeannette Warner
6 Farley Road
Scarsdale

Comments   

-1 #8 I little more color 2017-07-08 18:37
The Board of Trustees would not only have to be convinced that Huntington Avenue between Montrose Road/Sage Terrace and Putnam Road serves no useful purpose, they'd have to convince the State legislator of same.

The Board of Trustees does not care, nor in fairness is it suppose to, about school specific matters. Let me clarify that. Of course the Board of Trustees, residents themselves, care about good schools and the commensurate property values associated with same, etc.. But the Board of Trustees is duty bound to see the Board of Ed is just another legal petitioner, in many ways no different than you or I going to the Board of Architectural Review, or a business owner seeking to, say, expand their space in Downtown (ok, bad example, Downtown could use better occupancy rates.)

So, as politics goes, Government may be inclined to ask, "you want this work done, what's in in for me School Board Trustees?" And when I say "me," I mean the overall Scarsdale population at large. This by the way is not a bad thing. The School and Government, in Scarsdale at least, are separate legal entities, with their own boards, agendas, and budgets.

Now, before you press the negative comment button, understand that not only can this happen, it probably already did.

To point, there was a very good reason that Village Government was helping the School Board get Huntington Avenue closed last round, something they should not be doing, and it wasn't the kindness of Government's heart. To wit: the BOE has its own attorneys to petition government, and for the Village Attorney to work on the School Boards behalf, as the President of Board claimed on our District's Cable Access channel, is a legal no no. The Village Attorney represents only government, its officers, departments and boards.

Simultaneously representing someone else is conflict of interest the BAR (and NOT the Board of Architectural Review, mind you ;-) ) doesn't like to see.

Back then, rumor has it, Government was looking for real estate for flood water, and the School Board may have had a little they weren't using. (Sounds funny: a desire to buy flood lands.)

Again, renovate/repair , close the road or not, the Huntington Avenue area in question is anything but subject to the legal standard of "useless," I say void of editorial content. I suspect a summer traffic study, where Village camp is NOT being held at the Greenacres school, (to be fair) would find the section of Huntington Ave discussed here used far more than Farley or Kingston Roads.

I truly hope a solution can be arranged. I'm somewhat pro school renovation to preserve character, but on the other hand, look at Fire Police Headquarters. Doesn't that building's renovation blend nicely with Village architecture? There's no saying a new building won't do that as well. And if road closure serves more needs than it takes away fine.

But getting a road closed in NYS can be very tough.
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+1 #7 Thanks Jeannette, but.. 2017-07-08 11:57
Thank you Jeannette for your well written piece on the possible closing of Huntington Avenue between Montrose Road/Sage Terrace and Putnam Road.

So my biases are known, partly because I live close to the school and was concerned about traffic changes, I opposed this closure when proposals were made years back to effect same, ONLY during school hours, long before school renovation discusses began, and where child safety was the sole concern.

I felt (and persuaded) shelfing this plan because of several factors: the a) lackluster support among elementary school age parents at the time (let alone community members at large, never polled) for this road closure versus the safety of our children, when remedial steps to enforce such safety, short of road closure, like cameras and retractable road spikes hadn't first been tried, and perhaps more important, I b) exposed a situation where the Board President admitted on camera to having Village Government do the legal work for this endeavor: a huge legal no-no given the legal autonomy of School Board and Government.

Again, note, this was only a "during the school day temporary road closure."

I don't raise this to toot my horn, worse, suggest I am anything but in favor of child safety. Still more, unlike before, I am now in favor of at least considering this closure because the issues also include one of school renovation.

Instead, I bring this up to highlight the issues faced then: as a self proclaimed historian (even if only a poor one) if you will of what happened then, and is likely to reoccur.

As the Keane & Beane opinion, IMHO I think accurately highlights, one necessary litmus test for road closure would be that the Village Board of Trustees would have to determine that the road serves no useful purpose. And again, "even if to beat a dead horse," unlike the prior round of this proposal I speak of, permanent road closure is likely being sought, not just a temporary one during school hours.

Regardless of where any of us stand on the issues of renovation/rebu ild, how this is done, and road closure, the cold hard fact, at least IMHO, is that nobody will be able convince decision makers that Huntington Ave between Montrose Road/Sage Terrace and Putnam Road serves no useful purpose, even if you and I wish this could be the case. It (and its Greenacres Avenue extension), along with your Farley, and Kingston Roads, serve as the 3 intercommunity "East-West" conduits for traffic. (East-West is in quotes because Greenacres' streets are themselves mapped at about a 45 degree angle right of true North.)

Please understand, I have no agenda this time other than to bring to light the issues that your otherwise so well written piece Jeanette will likely have us facing.
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+4 #6 Stop the Hastiness 2017-07-06 14:39
Quoting H is for Hasty:
The fog clears. We are going to have to vote down the bond in order to get all the issues, including the most basic ones like the one Jeannette describes above, worked through.

That's right. We need to VOTE DOWN THE BOND. Hagerman and the Board are rushing through this process at lightning speeds, not taking the time or effort to do any thoughtful diligence in the process. We CANNOT accept this as Scarsdale residents.
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+2 #5 H is for Hasty 2017-07-06 10:19
The fog clears. We are going to have to vote down the bond in order to get all the issues, including the most basic ones like the one Jeannette describes above, worked through.
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+8 #4 GA Mom 2017-07-05 14:46
Thank you Jeanette for addressing another issue with the Greenacres school which has to do with the most important consideration in this process...the safety of our children. Something Hagerman and the school board continue to ignore because they are most concerned about saving money.
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+10 #3 Greenacres Resident 2017-07-05 09:50
I think everyone can agree that closing Huntington is something that should be pursued whether the Board chooses to renovate or build a new school. $8,000 for a traffic study seems like nothing in the context of $30+ million project for Greenacres. I would like to see the Board publicly commit to ordering the traffic study and pursuing a closure.
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+11 #2 Thank you Jeannette! 2017-07-05 09:30
Thank you so much Jeannette for this very detailed analysis. I only heard those details at the public forum and I was so surprised by this informed opinion. I fully support this avenue of closing Huntington.
So far the Haggermann and BOE has led us to believe all along in this is a NO GO! They state (note only in passing) that the discussion took place sometime before and it was rejected due to some concern from the state about ambulance getting out the neighborhood. As a result they shut everyone down on it avenue. You analysis challenges all that and I would like to BOE to issue a statement to show all of us that they have done the due diligence! Please send your letter to BOE as well so they have it in writing.
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+9 #1 Resident 2017-07-04 22:01
It is amazing how little due diligence has been done with the planning for this bond. Of course, closing Huntington should be a top priority. This should be thoroughly researched before any decision is made on Greenacres.
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