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School Board Approves Bond Referendum For Greenacres Expansion and District Wide Facilities Needs

heathcoteretroFor anyone who hasn't yet heard, the big news from the Scarsdale Schools is that the Scarsdale Board of Education approved a referendum for a $64,867,577 bond for facilities work. All seven of the board members voted "yes" to hold the community-wide vote on February 8, 2018 though one did not support the plan, saying he was "certainly not convinced this is the right package of spending."

The scope of the project includes $34.1 million for a renovation and expansion of Greenacres Elementary School and facilities work at the six other Scarsdale Schools. Plans at Greenacres call for a cafeteria and learning commons and a two-story addition with eight new classrooms. After recommendations from the Greenacres Building Committee, the board agreed to extra air and noise monitoring during construction as well as air conditioning in the library and old multipurpose rooms, where the windows will need to be closed during construction.

The high school, which is currently under renovation, will receive $9.6 million dollars of the bond, with the biggest ticket items being $3mm in unit ventilators and exhaust systems, $1.7 mm for roofing, $1.6mm to replace boilers and burners and $1.4 million for improvements at Dean Field.

The biggest items on the lists for the other schools are as follows:

Edgewood Elementary School: $2,500,000 to replace abandoned forced air systems

Fox Meadow Elementary School
: $2,500,000 to improve ventilation in the classrooms

Heathcote Elementary School: $2,412,000 to replace BUR roofing

Quaker Ridge Elementary School: $750,000 to provide mechanical fresh air and $660,812 to replace BUR roofing

Scarsdale Middle School: $3,506,579 to replace EPDM roof

Here is a topline summary of the meeting, but you can watch the full board meeting online here.

In his opening remarks, Board President William Natbony called the process "open and transparent" and thanked the executive committees of the PT Council, the Greenacres PTA and the Edgewood PTA for their statements in support of the project. He said, "We have a significant opportunity" to invest in our schools district's facilities, enhancing the safety, security and educational experiences of students and staff." He said he is "proud of the work we have done" and the collaborative process that allows for disagreement."

He warned about "inaccurate reporting" and charged words used to incite public emotions," and asked the public to "be good and educated consumers of the real facts behind the bond."

The subject of the meeting then turned to air quality, water infiltration and remediation.

Dr. Hagerman reviewed the results of the air quality testing at Greenacres School, where mold was found in October 2017 and said that all tests came back "normal at this time." He proposed a plan for air quality testing at all district schools to be included in the 2018-19 budget.

The four-pronged plan includes:

  • Immediate Response: Testing and remediation of any suspected air quality issues with follow up testing one month later and six months later.
  • Annual Testing: This calls for randomized room testing on a two year cycle for all district schools.
  • Vulnerable Areas: A list of vulnerable areas will be developed and closely monitored. They are vulnerable due to "excessive moisture, dampness, exposed soil, non-circulating air, outdoor detritus and the like." Annual testing will be done on these areas along with remediation and retesting one month and six months later.
  • Water Infiltration: A list of areas that have water infiltration, both one-time and chronic will be identified. They will be closely monitored, leaks will be repaired and testing will be done.

Dr. Hagerman said that the cost estimate for this testing is $20-$25,000 per year for each elementary school and $40 -$45,000 per year for the middle and high schools. Therefore, the total annual cost will be $180,000 to $215,000 per year.

Bill Natbony announced that two of the dehumidifiers in Greenacres were found to be "not working" and may have contributed to the moisture levels. Mattey said the two broken dehumidifiers did not help with the circulation and dehumidification of the basement and that two residential dehumidifiers had been purchased and placed into the unoccupied basement area. He said courtyard stairwells have been cleaned out. A contractor has been called in to make a recommendation for ventilation work. (It is interesting to note that the district also recently reported that the ventilation system in Greenacres gym is also not operating correctly. The reports show high humidity in the gym.)

Board member Nina Cannon asked about gutters filled with leaves and Dr. Hagerman referenced a video the district had received showing clogged gutters.

Mattey invited Facilities Director John Trenholm and hygienist Ernest Coon from Regulatory Compliance to discuss the facilities work done at Greenacres over the years. Coon has done Scarsdale's air quality tests for many years.

Trenholm explained that the gutter leak was in 2014 and that the video had been delivered to Ms. Purvis. The gutter was "mis-hung" and has been replaced. He said, "We have done extensive work on water infiltration at Greenacres, dating back to my tenure in 1998 all the way to the present. Starting with water infiltration in the courtyard back in 1998 and in 2001 on the northwest corner of the courtyard we added new leaders and gutters and storm drainage and we also dug down the whole foundation and waterproofed that area to prevent water infiltration into the stairwell. Over the years, on four different years, we have done gutter replacement and snow guard replacement to improve the water coming onto the façade of the building. We did have an issue last year on the Putnam side of the building. It took us almost 4 months to find the leak way up in the valley we had to rebuild the whole roof. There was a water infiltration issue, some of the plaster was damaged. We thought we had it fixed through some pointing work, but it took us three months to get to the final issue. Since then, no issues there."

Trenhold continued, "We do work at all the buildings. Though we may have taken a pause at Greenacres to decide what we were doing with the bond, the building was maintained. You can see that the buildings are maintained in very good shape. Do we address them, yes. We address issues right away."

Lee Maude asked if other districts have an annual plan to do air quality testing. Coon said, "no" ... not the entire building in one or two years, but in select areas."

Art Rublin inquired about mold findings at Greenacres. He asked hygienist Coon, "Are the positive mold findings now and in the past normal in your experience?" Coon said, "I am not certain what normal is, but I work with 10-15 districts in Westchester alone and I have commonly been called back to the same school twice– but typically it is not in the same area (of the school). There is nothing abnormal about me going to Greenacres the several times I remember." Asked if there were mold findings in other district buildings, Coon said, "yes." He said he found other air quality issues in the buildings at one time or another. Trenholm said, "We have had mold scores above the 150 level at Fox Meadow and at Edgewood School before," and added, "You haven't heard about this because this has been normal procedure. We have tested and remediated."

Rublin said, "Let's say the bond passes and we install industrial dehumidifiers plus vigilance about water spills. I know you can't rule out recurrence. It sounds to me that this is a viable building. Is it fair to think that those are long term fixes?"

Fred Seeba, the engineer from BBS responded, "From an engineering standpoint, if you look at the areas where high mold was found, there will always be water in the boiler room. Blowing the boilers down once a week means water will find its way to the drain. There is going to be live steam coming back into the room because all of your steam traps are not perfect. To find elevated counts, I am not surprised. In the other basement areas, it's a damp humid condition if you are not moving air around. The two other areas were sink cabinets. I am not surprised. There is water everywhere. Unless you are vigilant it is a high water area. I don't think these are constant issues. Am I willing to say that you will never have mold issues again in Greenacres? Obviously not. You can have leaky roofs or unit ventilators. There is no way to prevent that. Continue to monitor, continue to test."

Mattey said, "We have been on top of it." Since the early 2000's we have not had evidence of water coming up from the foundation. We have had roof leaks and water through a window well."

Seeba said that the firm "looked at the foundation on three occasions and other than cracks in walls they saw nothing. They looked at areas where there had been previous water infiltration but there was none during their inspection. The inside of the building had been repaired as well. The boiler room has not been repaired and the district is looking into doing that in January. A structural engineering company walked the foundation and provided minor recommendations. They examined areas that had previous water infiltration and concluded they were no longer leaking. They prepared a list of items to include in the bond referendum. There is some cracking. There is $160,000 to repair cracking. There is a site number of $500,000, some of which will be used to slope the building to make sure we draw water away from the building. There are light wells; the rain gets in there over time, we will cover those. We feel all the issues will be rectified."

The Board adopted the SEQR findings which you can review on the district website here. Natbony said the "board has gone above and beyond" what it is right to do, not just "checking boxes." Silberfein said that the revisions incorporated comments from the public.

Dr. Hagerman presented a 94-page review that tells the story of the bond process including comments from the public and the SEQR review that you can review here. He encouraged everyone to read it. He presented the bond resolution.

The board conducted other business and later returned to vote on the referendum.

Here are excerpts from their comments:

Art Rublin introduced the resolution and spoke at length providing a robust defense of the plan. He looked back at the history of the Scarsdale schools and likened the situation today to 1904 when the district debated whether to renovate the district's school building or build new. In the 1950's residents debated the construction of the Heathcote School and a resident questioned building a super duper school. Rublin said, "Voters have generally supported the bonds" and this has been to the benefit of thousands of school children. Within a few years of the construction of the school, Life Magazine called Heathcote a forerunner of the schools of the future. A school board member said that the new Heathcote School had "Increased Scarsdale's prestige and enhanced the value of all homes in the Village." Rublin recounted the long history of the development of the bond and said, "I am confident we will push through the debates to conclusion. ...I think now is the time for us to bring this bond to the voters in February 2018." He said that the existing fourth and fifth grade classrooms were among the smallest in the district, averaging 633 - 639 square feet. He said new 800 square foot classrooms would benefit the children. He said that none of the older classrooms would be less than 756 square feet. "No plan for Greenacres would satisfy everyone, but I think we have a plan that if implemented would provide significant improvement to the experience of thousands of elementary school students for decades to come."

Nina Cannon: "I feel that we have had a transparent process. I think there are those that are not happy. ...We have had quite a journey to get to this point. There will be additional facilities needs that will present themselves to us.... It does address the pressing needs and concerns of the Greenacres Elementary School as well as necessary facilities needs across the district while staying true to this board's concern with tax neutrality. I am pleased to cast my vote in favor of the bond referendum."

Pam Feuhrer said the board and administration "have listened to and explored hundreds of inquiries and suggestions from a broad and deep representation of school organizations and individuals.... The bond proposal has been "fully framed" by this input.... (it) promotes and supports exceptional teaching and learning in excellent facilities."

Chris Morin was the only board member who did not support the bond. He said "I agree with many of the comments and some about the outcome. I remain concerned that we are missing a responsibility and even an opportunity to take all the good work from KGD and BBS and understand what it's implications are....I am certainly not convinced this is the right $65 million package of spending.... I think the constraints upon us may be quite severe in the next 10 years. We have done all this work to compile the facilities needs. The right thing for us to do is to distill that into a real vision for what we want the district to look like, to agree on some principals, on values and goals and from that to create a context to make the right decision about Greenacres and the rest of the district and to integrate instructional planning with that and to consider what the financing implications are for that. I don't know why we're not doing that. As much as an awful lot of time has passed and so much work has gone into this, I don't feel like we're at the finish line. I am persuaded that given where the community and the administration are, it's fine with me to present it to the community. So I will support the resolution as written, although I do not support the plan itself."

Lee Maude said, "Dr. Hagerman and Mr. Mattey have placed the children of this district first. They have been completely transparent in their work and their communications with the public. It is the administrations work, their community engagement, their planning and their recommendations that lead me to support this bond referendum. .... Small classes and the time children spend with their teachers are where the bulk of our tax dollars go. Prior to 1999 I believe the district had underinvested in its facilities. Enrollment increases forced the district to finance significant bond projects to build additional classrooms around 1999 and 2000, and unfortunately we saw those 9% tax increases..... This current bond finally assesses the true infrastructure needs dictated by code and by safety and technology for all of our buildings. I applaud the administration for finally studying that issue."

She continued, "Greenacres is 100 years old – but according to engineering reports it is a structurally sound building. Having sent my kids to Fox Meadow, I have observed that Greenacres classrooms actually look bigger and brighter than Fox Meadow's... I fully support the renovation/expansion and I am excited about BBS's design. I do not believe we will endangering the students. If I did, I would not be supporting this proposal. While we may hear from people in the community engaged in the "construction industry" about risks during construction I don't believe that most of these people have worked under NYS environmental rules that are specifically for public schools. Please make up your mind based on the facts. Be careful when you listen to people in this community. There have been a number of remarks that are emotional and speak negatively about this project. Don't rely on the loudest people in the room, or people with access to the media or your home emails."

Scott Silberfein said, "We value critical thinking and creative problem solving... I think that this bond referendum is something we can be proud of. We got to a good place tonight. I learned from everyone I was involved with in this process. I am pleased to be casting my positive vote for the bond."

Natbony echoed the comments he made in his opening statement about an open, fair and collaborative process, the excitement about this opportunity and the need for this community to be good consumers of the facts and make their decision based on the facts.

Speaking during the public comments section, Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez commented on a traffic survey done by the Municipal Services Committee of the Scarsdale Forum. Rodriguez is a co-chair of the Scarsdale Forum Education Committee and said that she had received many emails and phone calls asking when she would be writing a report about Greenacres. She said, "All of these issues about Greenacres are important but in the surveys we were told that the priorities were to write about a long term financial plan. The second priority is writing about a world-class education and how we know if we have it. It's not that I don't think that Greenacres is important, but there's only so much of me and my co-chair Carlos to go around. Also, the Education Committee members are deeply divided. There are those that are deeply unhappy with the communications process and many of those wanted a new school. But we also have those that are grateful that the bond will be tax neutral and for the information you have been giving. I invite members of the community to join the Education Committee and take the lead on writing a report."

Greg Loten of 6 Montrose Road commended the board on an excellent job. He said, "The devil is in the details," and you provided the details. ..You have been open to the community and I thank you very much."

Bob Berg of 2 Tisdale Road said, "This is Scarsdale and no good deed goes unpunished. You have been subject to a lot of flack from the community, mostly through anonymous comments on various blogs. You have provided the community with the opportunity to speak. You have studied this for three or four years. I think the bond is ready to be presented to the community. I don't know where it will go. I wish you good luck. But I think certainly you should send it out for a vote in February. I think the time is right."

Dr. Hagerman said the district had retained consultants to make the information about the bond more readily available on the district website. The bond referendum will be held on Thursday February 8, 2018. Watch the meeting in its entirety here.

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