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School Board Questions Recommendations on Safety Measures During Greenacres Construction

sound-monitoringFirst the vote on the proposed bond was in 2017 – now it's 2018. Then it included a large cafeteria at the Scarsdale Middle School plus learning commons at all the elementary schools. Those are out now. But what's in? Will there be air conditioning?

Many people have told me that the lengthy discussions about the proposed $67mm Scarsdale Schools bond for a renovation and expansion at Greenacres and other facilities updates has gotten too difficult to track. With weekly changes to the proposal, it's a lot to monitor. So for anyone who doesn't have the patience to read the emails or watch the November 13 Board of Education meeting online, here's the latest on the proposed 2018 bond referendum.

Noise and Air Monitoring, Security and Modular Classrooms:

The biggest surprise of the meeting was the Board's vote on safety and security measures and modular classrooms during the construction at Greenacres School. These extra precautions during construction were recommended by the Greenacres Building Committee, the District Wide Facilities Committees and the school administration, and favored by Greenacres parents. The air and noise monitoring was recommended by Park East, the Construction Management firm, to provide reassurance that excess noise would not hamper learning and that construction dust would not harm children in the school. The security people were supposed to manage the movement of construction vehicles that will be parked on the black top across the street from the school.

However with only four votes for the noise monitoring, three for air monitoring and none for the trailers, these items may not be included in the plans. Board members Chris Morin and Pam Fuehrer who served on the Greenacres Building Committee objected to the measures. Fuehrer called the monitoring "superfluous" and nixed the trailers citing other contingencies that could be used if classrooms became unusable. About the trailers, Morin said, "I haven't heard anyone say this is a good idea. ...I don't think there is any scenario where these would be used. There is excess capacity in the rest of the district. If needed, the kids could meet at Greenacres and be bussed to another school." Morin likened this recommendation to a decision by General Electric to purchase a second corporate jet to follow the first one. He read from an article calling this "millions of dollars recklessly wasted." He called the proposed modular classrooms a "blight on the field" and said the funds for the trailers would be wasted. He also said that including Including unnecessary measures would make it impossible to do other work at the district.

The Board also questioned the needed for extra security to monitor construction vehicles and equipment, as well as the cost to air condition the school library and multipurpose rooms. The air conditioning was proposed because the windows in these rooms will have to remain closed during the project and there will be no ventilation. The District Wide building committee recommended ceiling fans for multipurpose rooms, however in this case, without fresh air coming in through the windows, the fans would have little effect.

Bathroom Renovations and Parking:

The Board did give approval to renovations of the toilet rooms, but did not specify how many, at a cost of $530,865. They also left in $597,498 for 20 additional parking spaces. These were originally proposed for Huntington Road but the Village has expressed concern about their location as the cars could block emergency vehicles. Another space will need to be found.

All told, if the air, noise and security monitors and the modular classrooms were eliminated, it would decrease the cost by about $2.3 million.

The Board had originally said that they would follow the recommendations of these special committees that were appointed by the administration, so it was surprising that they would vote against these recommended measures.

Cafeteria:

Another item that came under scrutiny at the meeting was the proposed cafeteria at Greenacres School. In response to questions about adding lunch service at all the elementary schools the administration has convened a district-wide committee to examine food service, however it's first meeting was on November 13, the date of the Board meeting. The cost of the cafeteria at Greenacres is estimated at about $2.3 million, and the board was mixed on including it in the plans.

Scott Silberfein said that he was not sure the Board was ready to make a decision on cafeterias, without the benefit of more research. He noted that a multipurpose room was now under construction at Heathcote, without a cafeteria. Dr. Hagerman said that the need for food service had been raised by school principals and building committees and indicated that the district is moving toward lunch programs at all schools. He added that a kitchen at Greenacres could be used as a "buddy kitchen" where food would be prepared to provide hot lunches at other elementary schools. Lee Maude said the kitchen could be considered an alternate. A vote by the board on the kitchen found that four were in favor of it with three against, and it was put on a list for further discussion.

However, by a vote of 6 – 1, the board approved the balance of the Greenacres renovation as proposed.

Air Conditioning:

A district-wide facilities committee recommended that air conditioning be installed in all school classrooms at a cost of $23.94 million. They also recommended that the district install ceiling fans for large group areas such as multipurpose rooms at a cost of $1.25mm. The school administration backed the plan to propose these costs in a second bond referendum, contingent on the passage of the $67 million bond for Greenacres renovation, facilities work and security vestibules.

The Board had a lengthy discussion about including air conditioning in the first bond, proposing it in a second one or putting it off until a later date. Art Rublin proposed deferring some of the facilities work such as roofs and boilers to future general operating budgets to allow funds for air conditioning in the first bond. Others were concerned that adding air conditioning to the first bond would challenge tax neutrality and risk the passage of funding for the work at Greenacres and facilities needs. Others said that the board needed further discussion and study of air conditioning before giving it the green light for this bond.

Ultimately four board members voted to support the original $67 million bond referendum without air conditioning and agreed to continue the discussion at a future meeting.

What else:

Throughout the meeting, Board member Chris Morin questioned the process by which the bond proposal had been crafted. Discussing Greenacres he said, "I think we had a single proposal for a very large addition – at best, I think it received tepid support for a strained compromise. There's an awful lot that made us have to scrutinize that plan. The need for that design has not fallen into place. I don't think anyone agreed we needed vast new classroom facilities. Why eight classrooms? Are these necessary?" About air conditioning he said, "I think people in Greenacres would rather have an air conditioned gym then the other stuff we are loading into this plan. I am concerned about the process. I don't think these items have been fully vetted. Would you prefer empty trailers when you could have a renovated gym and a middle school comfort station?"

Community Comments:

In the public comments portion of the meeting Bob Berg spoke against the air conditioning. He commended the Board for their open discussion and debate on capitol issues, saying, "It's the right way to proceed." But he said, "I think the air conditioning is a mistake – we don't live in Miami, Phoenix or Texas ... We're talking about 3-4 horrible days a year and a week or two where you need a fan. You will get into trouble with the community who sees this as an unneeded luxury. The other work is important to do. It will muddy the waters to bring in this AC. It is an invitation to disaster. Do it after you have this bond."

Mary Beth Evans Chair of LWVS Study Committee said, "Our committee would like more details on the rationale for air conditioning." She also asked if future spatial needs for the district had been incorporated into a strategic plan.

Diane Greenwald from 2 Oak Lane said, "I actually do agree with Chris. I have heard people say that they could handle the heat in school, saying it was good enough for me so its good enough for them. That mentality is the mentality of a dying society. We have to do better for our children. If you believe in it – do it! I heard people say we have to stick with this (plan). But don't stick with a mistake just because you took a long time making it. There are some ideas that might need to be readjusted. Air conditioning is a good priority. Maybe it's time to fix the process and getting the priorities right."

Commenting on the board discussion about the safety and security measures at Greenacres, Greenacres resident Jon Krisbergh said, "Last night was nothing short of shocking. The Board is literally (and admittedly) ignoring the recommendations from its Administration, the Building Committees, its architect, its construction manager and independent experts from Mt. Sinai Hospital. My guess is that last night's meeting made the work of their SEQRA expert that much more difficult. I do not know how they plan to satisfy the SEQRA requirements to identify and mitigate environmental and safety risks if they ignore all mitigation suggestions from their own advisers, experts and the community."

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