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School Administration Responds to Questions about Proposed Bond At LWVS Public Forum

questionmarkThe League of Women Voters of Scarsdale posed some tough questions on the proposed 2018 school bond at their public forum on Wednesday January 10 2018 at Scarsdale Library. The $64.8 million bond would be roughly split between a renovation and expansion at Greenacres Elementary School and infrastructure work including ventilation, boilers, roofs, site work and ADA compliance upgrades at the rest of the district schools. The bond referendum will be held on February 8, 2018

Mary Beth Evans chaired the League's bond study committeeand presented the League's questions to the administration in advance of the meeting. Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey arrived with their answers in hand. They were joined by School Board President William Natbony, Vice President Scott Silberfein and Greenacres School Principal Sharon Hill. Following that portion of the meeting, the floor was opened up to attendees who asked their own questions about the proposal.

Plans for Greenacres Elementary School drew the lion's share of the scrutiny, with questions posed about the scope of the plan, the decision to renovate rather than construct a new school, environmental concerns, sustainability and educational adequacy. Also questioned was the decision to assume that any capitol plan had to be tax neutral.

In a discussion about what priorities went into the decision about Greenacres, Dr. Hagerman presented a list that included some items that had not been previously reviewed, namely historic preservation and respecting neighborhood building character. It should be noted that the proposed building design extends very close to the street, includes two large retaining walls and maxes out the three-acre building site.

Here are the priorities for Greenacres identified by Dr. Hagerman:

  • Optimizing a design that works within the existing footprint – as we know, all of our older schools are on fairly tight lots and that's sometimes a tricky proposition
  • Ensuring proper drainage, elevations and walkways that fit within the overall design.
  • Keeping obviously the historical aesthetic of the existing school and the overall neighborhood – that was an important consideration at the onset of this process relative to Greenacres.
  • Ensuring shape, scale, scope matched the scale of other existing homes and buildings in the immediate proximity
  • Including sustainable elements and new plantings as part of the design.
  • Creating indoor and outdoor spaces that capitalize on natural light and the beauty of the adjacent park.

The budget for Greenacres School includes $1 million for historic preservation, which according to Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey has "been budgeted in the proposed bond in order to provide the ability for enhanced detailing, both interior and exterior in order to preserve, maintain and further the integrity of the historic architectural elements/qualities of this building."

In response to the League's following question, "Are there issues and needs at Greenacres School that the final bond project will not address? If so, please explain? Dr. Hagerman said, "We believe that all major needs will be addressed by this proposed bond with the caveat with new construction and renovations there is always the potential for some repairs so I don't want to assert that no work will occur at Greenacres after the bond project is complete. We are satisfied that it will be treated as regular maintenance." Stuart Mattey added, "The major part of this scope is building conditions.... electrical, plumbing. These have not been replaced for decades. These do wear out."

This was somewhat confusing as the district had previously identified $5 - $6 million more in additional infrastructure needs for the building that will need to be addressed beyond the work specified in the bond.

You can watch the presentation online here and read our transcription of the text below.

Here is a summary of some of the questions asked by the audience and the administration's response:

Susie Rush said, "I used to be engaged but have not been in the last year. People are going to make a decision to vote – maybe just based on what they hear from their friends or from reading the paper. I know my husband is going to ask why he should vote for this bond. I have to have a basis to argue it cogently. One of the biggest elements of this bond is Greenacres. The question is, why did we choose to renovate vs. build a new building? I have read some of the materials. I am not seeing points I can spout out about what I think. Can you give me 3 or 4 reasons why the board decided to go with renovation rather than new?"

Dr. Hagerman said, "There is not one reason. There were priorities established like educational adequacy and historical preservation. There were a number of issues that were raised. We felt a renovation and expansion best matched those. It was the architects and engineers opinion that Greenacres was a viable building, that it had some issues as all old building have issues, but they thought it was structurally a beautiful building, a pleasant building and with the proposed renovation and expansion we could make it an absolute diamond."

He continued, "The issues that were identified around classroom space, the adequacy of bathrooms, around the food service, around the multipurpose space are all being accomplished absolutely in the renovation that is proposed. The tax neutrality question came out as a primary consideration at the very beginnings of this process. Unlike the 2014 bond which was "tell us what you want, what you would like to see," this started with a hard look at every single building. I don't know if that had ever been done. When we did this, we said, we have a lot of needs. We have code compliance issues, we have space issues, we have educational issues, we have food service issues ... in order to take care of those issues and maintain neutrality, this was the best solution."

Board President Bill Natbony added, "We were comfortable that we could do it right at Greenacres and still do the other work across the district."

Greenacres Principal Sharon Hill said, "The process gave me and the teachers the opportunity to participate in the process. There are many ways we make do with the way the building serves us. It's not unusual to find the children working in the hallways on the floor. Because the space – for the older children --- is smaller. On indoor recess days it's hard to manipulate where the children are going to be. The proposal helps us to resolve some of those issues. We have a nice plan that addresses all of our needs at this point."

Victor Goldberg questioned district priorities. He said, "Suppose tax neutrality had been given a number that was 10% more. What would you have done? I was wondering what you left off? Interest rates are pretty low. I am not sure "tax neutrality uber alles is the right philosophy."

Dr. Hagerman replied, "We identified millions of dollars of additional work that the district is taking on through our operating budget. There was a lot of other work. Much of this is life, safety and code compliance. There are still wish lists for greenhouses and playgrounds. That was not entertained at all as part of this work."

Michelle Sterling said, "I find there to be many glaring omissions in this bond – not "nice to haves" but glaring omissions with this bond, one of the major ones is with the parking and drop off and pick up situation that is not is not addressed with this bond. That is not a nice to have. That has to do with the safety of our children and I think Principal Hill and any parent who sees the situation knows that it's a very unsafe situation and it has been this way for years. What's the plan to address that?"

She added, "My second one is that the district has hired a publicity firm to promote this bond. Is that true? Did we hire a publicity firm for the last bond? How much are we paying them and why are we feeling the need to do this? Thank you for your volunteer time."

Dr. Hagerman said, "There are a whole lot of things we are working on as a district that are not necessarily in this bond. Parking is a great example. We have parking issues at every one of our schools. We understand that parking in a neighborhood that was not designed for that kind of traffic flow around the school is an issue. We did look at a couple of items relative to Greenacres and the parking options were not sufficient. So we are continuing to look at it. We understand it is a critical issue."greenacresBBS

He continued, "We do have a public relations firm, Zimmerman and Edelson. The amount of volunteer hours for that effort on the last bond was insane. The timeline around this bond, the complexity of this bond, some of the unrest that came out as a result of conflicting views about this lead us to believe this was necessary to get out effective, good timely information to the community and so that was a decision that we made, not to promote the bond in a positive way, but to share accurate information about what was going on.... To make sure that people understood what the proposal was. I have only been here for four years so I can't answer for how long - but we have had committees doing this work. About the cost, $10,000 Stuart is telling me? It's a BOCES service and the cost is about $10,000. (Someone in the audience said the cost was previously reported at $18,000 but Mattey said that some of this would be reimbursed by BOCES)

Mona Longman said, "My question is also about the costs. In the past we were told that $33 million is going into the renovation and there is another $5-$6 million of lower priority items that still need to be done. And air conditioning could be more to be put into the building. Are we in the mid $40's? I question whether that's the best way to spend our money. There are other buildings being built around the country for under $40 million – two of which are zero energy schools. Other districts are talking about sustainability and low energy and we're going in the opposite direction and I don't understand why. You're talking about putting a lot of money into renovation... over $40 million – why is this a good use of my money?"

Dr. Hagerman responded saying, "I think we reviewed all the information about why we think this is a good renovation and expansion and met the criteria for all of them. We believe that this is the right move. Will we not spend more money on Greenacres moving forward? Of course we will. I don't know how to answer the question about air conditioning. We're divided on this issue. I have heard opposite views on this for the limited days that it will be used."

He continued, "On the issue of sustainability – we are doing a lot of efforts across the district. We are not going backwards. We can look at Scarsdale Village. Of course buildings are being razed and rebuilt. But the number of people who choose renovations and expansions over building a brand new house has to do with the character aesthetic. Sustainability has been part of our RFP. In terms of toilets, lighting – we have been making efforts in all these things."

Board President Bill Natbony added, "Without understanding where these other schools are or what's included does not mean they are comparable to us. We are very comfortable with the costs and estimates we have received."

Karen Brew asked, "What is the vision for all the 100 year-old buildings? How will you deal with all of that and keep all schools up to date?"

Dr. Hagerman said, "I am not going to tell you who is next in line to get major work done. We have heard similar concerns about other schools. Right now we are living in this moment. I have not thought one second about a bond in the future. That will be a community process. We will identify the needs at that time. I can't say anything about the future."

Nancy Alderman posed a question about the environmental hazards in the school. Mold was found in Greenacres School in October of this year, and the lead pipes in the building will not be replaced in this renovation. She said, "I am a first time, long time. I have been a member of the league but I have never come to a meeting. I am deeply concerned about health and safety. I am concerned about the mold and the lead in the pipes. The mold can be remediated and it can come back"

Dr. Hagerman agreed, saying, "Yes, mold is chronic problem, in your own home, in your basement in your shower. You have to constantly clean and remediate. That's the nature of mixing air and moisture together. We issued a report. We remediated four spaces with mold and they are completely remediated. Do we believe it will never come back? No, it will. We have put together a plan for remediation to test each school on a rotating basis. Randomized testing. We share your concern. We proactively tested for lead before it became a state issue. We remediated for lead. We are committed to making air quality and all contaminants a priority in the future in all buildings."

Cynthia Dunne discussed restoration vs. renovation. She said, "I have just gone through a restoration and expansion of a 100 year-old house. There are costs that you are going to run into that you never expected. What's the plan for the overages? If you are going to do in a sustainable fashion, it's going to ramp up the costs way above any architects estimate. At the end of the day we found it would have been break even to knock it down and rebuild it as a 100% efficient home. Was that analysis done? Did you compare the cost of rebuilding vs. restoring? You'll never get to 99% efficiency on an old building."

Stuart Mattey said, "The contingencies are built into the numbers to cover the unknown. The architects designed and built older buildings. Dollar wise it is covered. Time wise we are aware of those possibilities. The estimates for a new building are on the website."

Following the public session, the League held a consensus meeting for League members only. Using the feedback from that session they will issue a consensus statement that will be read at the January 22, 2018 meeting of the Board of Education.

You can watch the meeting in its entirety on SPTV. However here is a summary of some of the responses to the questions posed by the League of Women Voters:

Question #1
What is the District's vision for Scarsdale school facilities that the bond is intended to achieve? And how will the bond projects serve to maintain and enhance current and future Scarsdale excellence in education?

Dr. Hagerman

Educational vision is expressed as part of values. There is a legacy of excellence found in our current transition plan. What has influenced this work is long term planning, tax neutrality, SET 2.0, K-12 wellness initiative, students voice and choice and the technology needed to meet these goals.

Health and safety is a value. So we commissioned building studies to optimize learning spaces for students to thrive. We developed long term plans for both the bond and for planning purposes. The projects in the 2018 bond all address health and safety and security issues for example new fresh air systems in elementary schools. At Edgewood and Fox Meadow these systems do not meet current state requirements. Security vestibules and cameras will be constructed at all elementary schools. At Greenacres, the learning environment will be optimized for student achievement, new 4th and 5th grade classrooms will be provided and the learning commons will provide opportunities for more creative learning for all of our students. Reconstruction of existing space will result in new art, maker space and music rooms plus a cafeteria, which none of our other schools except Quaker Ridge has."

Question 2
We understand that flexible, collaborative learning space, access to advanced technology and sustainable buildings are some of the features of today's optimal K-12 learning environments. Please describe how the 21st-century spatial needs of the schools were assessed and how the final bond proposal addresses such needs?

Dr. Hagerman:
Major elements of a 21st century classroom include: flexibility, accessibility for all, even those with disabilities, mobility, spaces that allow for different types of learners, technology-infused spaces. Students should be inspired by their environment and have access to light and the natural world. The proposed spaces were assessed given these values. District and national norms were also part of this process. The classrooms identified for expansion have been identified based on these benchmarks. The smallish 4th and 5th grade classrooms will be part of the expansion and will overlook the beautiful park across the street.

Question 3
What specific building infrastructure and spatial work is needed but not included in the final bond proposal? And if some schools have yet to undergo a full spatial needs assessment, when do you anticipate this will occur?

Dr. Hagerman:
We started out with a different architect, KG&D and then continued with BBS when they came on board. They identified every issue. We went through these item by item and prioritized them and decided who would be responsible for them. There is a scope of work that is not included in this bond that we are taking care of through our ongoing maintenance budget or in our 2018-19 budget.

All of the buildings have gone through a spatial needs assessment. We are still talking about elements of a Scarsdale 21st century classroom. There has been a lot of talk about square footage over time, and it doesn't matter if you have a house that's 1,000 square feet or 2,000 square feet, if one house is filled with furniture and casework and they other one is minimally designed. It's how you use that space. So we've been talking about prototyping 21st century classrooms in the district for a number of years. For example at Edgewood, they have Room 18 an experimental classroom where students came in and tried different designs. We've been looking at furniture like stand-up desks. We'll collect information and data about their experience with that and decide if there is going to some creep of that across the building or at the district level.

Question 4
Please describe the design goal for Greenacres School and the process by which it was determined.

Dr. Hagerman:
Maximizing space and educational adequacy for both current and anticipated needs including classroom and multipurpose space

Optimizing a design that works within the existing footprint – as we know, all of our older schools are on fairly tight lots and that's sometimes a tricky proposition

Ensuring proper drainage, elevations and walkways that fit within the overall design

Keeping obviously the historical aesthetic of the existing school and the overall neighborhood – that was an important consideration at the onset of this process relative to Greenacres.

Ensuring shape, scale, scope matched the scale of other existing homes and buildings in the immediate proximity

Including sustainable elements and new plantings as part of the design

Creating indoor and outdoor spaces that capitalize on natural light and the beauty of the adjacent park

And including the feedback of the school and district staff – and as folks know we had a lot of community and parent input as well.

Question 5
Are there issues and needs at Greenacres School that the final bond project will not address? If so, please explain.

Dr. Hagerman
There is a significant amount of work and it is quite comprehensive. There are a host of things we recognize that the district is already taking care of. It is going to be a tight budgeting year. We all recognize concerns about changes that are occurring at the federal and state level so we did much of this work before we knew about these proposed changes. So I would encourage everyone to follow the budget discussions to see how much of this we will be able to get done in the next year and of course over the next five or ten years.

This question was specific to Greenacres, so let me be very clear about this. We believe that all major needs will be addressed by this proposed bond with the caveat with new construction and renovations there is always the potential for some repairs so I don't want to assert that no work will occur at Greenacres after the bond project is complete. We are satisfied that it will be treated as regular maintenance.

Stuart Mattey – "The major part of this scope is building conditions. Electrical, plumbing. These have not been replaced for decades. These do wear out."

Question:
What is the duration of the proposed bond and what is the useful life of the proposed Greenacres School asset – i.e., total building structure – once complete?

Stuart Mattey
"Work will occur over an 18-month period. The construction period is 18 months."

Mary Beth Evans:
In sum, how long would you say this investment is going to serve the community?

Stuart Mattey
"It's hard to predict the life of a building. We have buildings here that have lasted very long. We have been fortunate. We have invested in all of our buildings. We budget $325,000 a year for pointing and roof repairs. The roofs we are repairing are well out of warrantee."

Dr. Hagerman
Most of our buildings are close to 100 years old. What great learning spaces they are because of the folks that take care of them. We are expecting that same return on the bond proposal we are suggesting.

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