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School Board Hears Comments, Pro and Con, On Proposed 2018 School Bond

greenacresrenderingThe Scarsdale Board of Education is speeding toward the adoption of a $64,867,577 million bond resolution, with a vote on the project's SEQRA determination and the adoption of the bond resolution scheduled for their December 11 meeting. The district wide vote is planned for February 8, 2018.

On Monday evening December 4 a public forum was held to get community feedback on the largest school bond in Scarsdale's history. The proposal calls for a $34mm renovation and expansion of Greenacres Elementary School as well as facilities and infrastructure repairs at the district's six other schools.

The scope of the bond has undergone many revisions, with projects and estimates changing almost weekly since the introduction of the plan in June 2017 after a six month pause in discussions about Greenacres School and the bond. At one point the proposal included new learning commons/cafeterias in three additional elementary schools and the construction of a large cafeteria at the middle school. Those plans, in addition to a proposed $10.8 million Energy Performance Contract are no longer in the proposal, which does include $11.9 million for ventilation, $9.6mm for roofs and $4.8 million for boilers.

The dizzying pace of the planning confused many people and advocacy groups that attempted to follow the process. However, the executive committees of two community organizations, the Scarsdale PT Council and the Greenacres PTA came out in support of the bond referendum at the forum on December 4. Others were concerned about the construction, the condition of the original building, recent reports of mold and the buildings sustainability.

Diane Baylor, President of the PT Council thanked the district for including them in the process and for being responsive to their questions. She said they appreciated the delay in the schedule for the bond vote to allow for candid and "messy" deliberations and said they appreciated the civil discourse.

She said that the members of the PT Council have differing opinions and due to the shifts in the proposal they had difficulty coalescing, but said they support the proposal for a tax neutral bond. They recommended that the district do a study of all playing fields to determine needs and said they support the Greenacres renovation and expansion, recognizing that the school has not received funding and needs significant work. She said the plan addresses the school's key spatial needs. The PT Council requested a master facilities plan in an easily digestible format with an itemization of long term needs vs. wants to help the community analyze upcoming work. Baylor said they look forward to the deliberations about air conditioning. Read the full statement here.

Megan Simon, spoke on behalf of the Greenacres PTA Executive Committee in support of the bond proposal including the health and safety recommendations. She said the construction will "enrich the lives of students through a much-needed addition of space." She stressed the school's present scheduling difficulties as one multi-purpose room is used for lunch and the other for music. She said the addition would give the school back their multi-purpose spaces and also said the additional bathrooms were much in need.

Simon did ask that the Board include air conditioning for the gym which will be adjacent to the construction and will no longer have windows. She asked the administration to come with a feasible plan for additional parking as the streets around the school are constantly congested.

Speaking for the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, Linda Doucette Ashman said that the League had closely followed the discussion but was not able to schedule a consensus meeting about the bond without the entire proposal. She said there have been "constant amendments since this process began, and that the timeline has shifted forward twice." Therefore, though a consensus statement has always been presented in the past, they were not able to provide one.

Addressing the safety of the children during the construction process, David Cooper, an attorney from Zarin and Steinmetz who was hired by the Greenacres Task Force, gave the board feedback about the SEQRA filing and expressed concerns about asbestos, lead and mold.

He said, "SEQRA is not box checking exercise. The "hard look" standard requires that the Board demonstrate it has considered all of the concerns raised by the community, and articulate how it will address them. The Task Force was troubled after the Board's 11/27 meeting, because JC Broderick recommended that the Board need not commit to addressing the community's concerns relating to Human Health risks (Box 16 on the EAF Part II). JC Broderick advised that Box 16 of the EAF Part II only addresses sites near brownfields, and therefore, did not apply to this project. This advice was incorrect. The DEC publishes a "Workbook" for lead agencies, indicating how best to answer every question on the EAF Part II form (for your information, it is available on the DEC's website). The DEC expressly provides in the Workbook that the Human Health section covers "potential impacts from exposure to any solid or hazardous substances and contaminants." DEC Regulations include asbestos and lead in the definition of "hazardous substances." Should the Board simply check the "no impact" box on question 16 it would be doing the community a disservice, and more importantly, violating the procedural mandates of SEQRA to identify the precise methodology it will use for addressing asbestos, lead and other potential contaminants found in the building such as mold."

Cooper commented, "We would recommend that the Board prepare a separate document for the community to review outlining the measures it will incorporate into the bond project to address all of the concerns about human health raised throughout the review process, and committing the District to implementing them. This document can support any final SEQRA determination the Board makes, and more importantly, would go a long way to putting the community at ease that the Board has heard their concerns, and will ensure that the contractor addresses them."

Ernie Wechsler of 5 Putnam Road said, "I have great concerns about health and safety. According to the plan, any of the work regarding lead and asbestos will be done in the summer. Not anyone believes this can be done in a summer. There will be a lot of pressure to get the kids back in school on time. Injecting a degree of human error into safety and our children are at risk. You took out the use of the modular. Never had a project of this size been done on such a small building."

He continued, "Did you consider a full modular school on the field? It would take only 2 out of 6 acres. Kids would be away from the construction and would be safer completely outside the classroom.... I applaud that you are spending the money wisely but my child's safety is more important than tax neutrality. (If you used modulars you) could scale down the size of the extension and scale back overtime if kids were out of the building. This is a self-imposed deadline. It deserves more exploration."

Mona Longman of Varian Lane questioned the value of the investment in the school. She said, "As a Scarsdale taxpayer, in order to vote in favor of this proposal, I want to see that the board has done a thorough analysis of this project. Newton MA spent $37 million for a brand new elementary school. Why are we putting in $40 million into this 100-year plus building that has known mold issues? The mold test results from testing done right after remediation are worthless. Teachers and children, as young as 5 years old spend 6 hours a day in this building. Put their safety above all else. We should be doing better for our residents."

Diane Greenwald reviewed the original project drivers for Greenacres, discussing the high water table, mold, the size of the school, site location, instructional spaces and the deferred maintenance that will be required on the old building. She questioned whether the plan addresses those needs and said, "Whether addressed now, or later, whether a bond package passes now or not, all these issues – and likely more -- will remain a part of future capital investment conversations. They are not going away."

She asked why decisions about food service and air conditioning were postponed and if facilities needs like roofs and boilers could be tucked into operating budgets. She said there were too many remaining questions to move forward with a referendum vote now and asked the board to allow time for "holistic review, reflection and reconsideration." She questioned whether Scarsdale taxpayers would step up if needs were greater than what could be funded in a tax neutral bond. Read her full statement here:

Greenacres resident Michael Levine said, "Today, I am talking about mold. Basically, and I am just speaking for myself, I do not have confidence that this whole Greenacres moisture and mold situation is under control.

At last week's meeting, Mr. Ed Maguire of J.C. Broderick said a few things about mold at Greenacres. He said, "I do not know all of the specifics of where mold may have been found." [To solve the problem], "remove the mold and then correct the moisture problem." "What you want to avoid is when it becomes a chronic mold problem ("laugh"), a building-wide systemic mold problem .... Buildings that are not maintained, not checked and where you have moisture issues over vast areas of your building.... It's at those levels, over chronic conditions, that you're going to have a, you know, widespread condition known as Sick Building Syndrome...."

Also, in these past few weeks, Joanne Wallenstein published school district documents that certainly suggest to me that Greenacres does have or could have a chronic and pervasive moisture and mold problem.

With moisture penetration likely coming from under slabs and through walls that are significantly below grade it is difficult to imagine a cost‐effective method of repair."

"For comprehensive remediation, it would be necessary to drill monitor wells in order to pinpoint excavation. The moisture problem is greater at Greenacres than in any other District building."

There were multiple teacher complaints about health problems and there has been ongoing mold remediation activities back to 2001.

And I trust Anne Moretti, who said this. "Mold can usually be effectively remediated; however, if there's an entrenched issue -decades ongoing-caused by old construction techniques, a high water table, and active mold creeping up through porous drywalls and unchecked for decades, that could be a much larger problem to fix. No one will know the extent of this until the walls are opened and construction begins. That's not how to begin a community project of this importance. We need to know all the facts, and it seems to me that the District must revise its cost analysis in light of these findings. Then our community can decide, once all the facts are known."

Now, I feel a little bad about coming up here and pointing this out without being able to recommend a solution, but I have to say that the path you are on is not a solution. Don't try to convince yourselves – and don't let anyone convince you – that this moisture and mold situation is not a problem or that it can just be buried in the basement for the next 20 or 50 or whatever years. In retrospect, this probably should have been identified as a Category 1.

Don't put $35 million of new improvements on top of a Sick Building, or even if there is a risk that it is a Sick Building.

As Mr. Maguire said, you have to eliminate the moisture. There is no other way to make this building healthy again.

Now, I know there are constraints – financial, not putting a new building on the field, time, etc. But it is pretty apparent to me that the work that is necessary to make the existing parts of Greenacres healthy again will take more than a summer. Which means it is probably necessary to go back to some sort of plan that relocates the students and faculty for a year.

And then you can consider what else to do for the existing parts of Greenacres, such as moving walls and making classrooms bigger, and so forth. I think everyone would understand cutting back on the scale of the current new expansion. Put the same amount or even less into a project that assures the health of the existing parts of Greenacres and improves it, make air conditioning a part of this, and do it in 15 months with the students and faculty relocated.

Maybe the bond will pass as is. Maybe it won't. Maybe it is too late to reconsider anything as broad as what I am suggesting. But certainly if the bond does not pass, I really urge you to consider an alternative along these lines."

Tony Corrigio was also concerned about construction with kids inside the school. He said, "Since the decision not to pursue a new school we turned our attention to safety of the renovation process. Did you consider busing the kids to other schools? Why not? How many classes are available? The mitigation plan is to get the work done over the summer. BBS urged the board for their own version of modulars and the board deleted those. All the bathrooms will be renovated. What is the feasibility of completing all this work in the summers?"

He asked for third party testing of the building after the summer to be sure the building is safe. He questioned whether all interior work would be done without the kids in the school. Not during the school year? Nights and weekends – lead and asbestos done on the weekend – how do you get clearance? An environmental testing firm needs to be hired – a third party to test – after the work has been done."

About the mold, he said there are "Chronic moisture and mold problems. No levels are deemed to be safe. How is the board comfortable without knowing if we have an irreparable problem? How have you gotten comfortable with adding $30 million to that building?"

Rona Muttner said, "My silence is due to frustration. The new mold report adds to that. I worry about adding on this gigantic addition that misses the teaching part of the school. It's putting something big on something that is crumbling. I worry we are missing a part of making the current building sound. There has been rumblings about mold for years and years. Perhaps we should pay attention to this. It's a rotten investment. Let's look at this foundation. How is that going to be sustainable?"

David Schwartz said, "We are spending a lot of money on the project. Are we doing enough on the old building? There will not be an appetite to go back to Greenacres for years to come so put more money into the existing part of the building. We certainly want to know that this building will be healthy, strong and suitable to last for 50 years. After this plan is done will these smaller classrooms be able to house the configurations that we want for the next 30, 40 years? Look at the smallest classrooms ...look to see if these spaces are suitable."

He urged the board to look at the rear playground of the school which has a large slope where there have been many injuries. He said, "It's not a great space for young kids." He also asked the board to consider beginning the project in June, 2020 and having it span that summer, the school year and a second summer."

He said, "Why are people in Greenacres concerned about health and safety?" He then read a comments from a former Greenacres teacher who had worked in the basement of the school for 27 years. It said, "It upsets me to write this response. But, it is something I need to do for myself and my colleagues. I am a retired teacher from Greenacres school that spent 27 years in the basement teaching. I spent most of those years expressing my concerns to school administration about the smell, mold, dampness and humidity in my room. Water would come in from the outside door and floor. Custodians would kindly mop it up but I knew the water was still under the linoleum. Bathrooms would leak into the hallway. Sometimes clean ups were done as a band aid to the problem. Years ago I remember an Asbestos cleanup that took place in my room. Most windows in my room were inoperable. Need I say more! Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. And it started in my lungs. Do I need to say more!"

Lesley Shearer followed Schwartz and thanked the Board for their time. She said, "People get sick, sorry to hear about that. Now is the time to update the school. The irony is that many people who are advocating for a new school live in old houses that they renovate."

It was not clear if the administration and board would have time to adjust the proposal in response to the community forum. They appeared to be amenable to changes to the SEQRA submission, but questions about the timing of the vote, safety during construction and the condition of the existing building seemed to be too far reaching to address at this late date.

You can watch the entire meeting on Scarsdale Cable television here. The Board will meet again on Monday night December 11 to make a SEQRA determination and vote on the adoption of the bond resolution.

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