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Greenacres Residents Retain Lawyers to Monitor Environmental and Legal Requirements for Proposed School Renovation

constructionBelow find a letter from the Greenacres Task Force to Scarsdale10583.com.

Independent Oversight Needed To Protect Children During Greenacres Renovation

Scarsdale residents must demand that construction projects addressing our schools' deteriorating infrastructure are accomplished in a safe, responsible and educationally appropriate manner.

Unfortunately, in the case of the proposed extensive renovation of Greenacres Elementary School, recent actions by the Board of Education have demonstrated a myopic focus on minimizing cost to the detriment of all other considerations, a willingness to make decisions based on incomplete or erroneous information, and refusal to seek guidance from or engage in a conversation with parents and community members.

Given the Board's questionable statements and actions, concerned residents have formed the Greenacres Elementary Task Force to help educate the community about the District's plans, confirm that proper process is followed to protect our children, and ensure that resources are deployed wisely and efficiently for the benefit of the entire community.

The District's current plan for Greenacres Elementary calls for the children to remain in the building during a 2-3 year renovation and expansion project that will subject the children to environmental risks such as asbestos, lead based paint, mold, dust, noise, and other construction hazards.

The Task Force has retained a law firm and environmental experts to monitor the District's compliance with environmental and legal requirements related to the proposed Greenacres renovation. On Monday, July 31, the lawyers for the Task Force sent the letter below to the School Board outlining the Task Force's initial steps.

To learn more, please visit www.greenacrestaskforce.org.

Here is the letter from attorneys Zarin and Steinmetz to the Scarsdale Board of Education:

Via E-Mail (boardofed@scarsdaleschools.org) and Overnight Mail

President William Natbony and Trustees of the Scarsdale Board of Education
2 Brewster Road
Scarsdale, New York 10583

Re: Greenacres Elementary School Facilities Planning

Dear President Natbony and Trustees of the Board:

This firm has been retained by the Greenacres Elementary Task Force made up of concerned residents of Scarsdale (the "Task Force") in connection with the above referenced matter. We, along with a team of various environmental and planning consultants, have been tasked with monitoring the School District's process as it prepares the "scope of work" to address the deteriorating conditions in the Greenacres Elementary School building (the "School"). This includes assisting the Task Force to ensure that the District recognizes and addresses parents' health, safety and many other concerns associated with the current concept to renovate and expand the old School while their young school children are present.

We are writing this letter to inform the District of our preliminary concerns about the lack of transparency in the review process to date, and various potential adverse environmental impacts that the District has apparently not considered. It is our understanding that the District is currently undertaking the mandatory evaluation of potential adverse environmental impacts, and alternative plans to avoid these impacts, as required under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). The District is apparently considering fast tracking its review so that a determination of significance can be adopted as early as August, but no later than October 2017, so as to allow a December referendum on bond financing for the renovation project and other District facilities projects. According to the Assistant Superintendent for Business at the Board's July 6, 2017 Business Meeting, the District has hired a consultant that will make sure "all the paperwork gets done" in the next few months, implying that "no further analysis" may be needed.

This is a serious concern for the Task Force. As your environmental consultant can attest to, the mandates of SEQRA cannot be satisfied by merely checking boxes or completing boilerplate "paperwork." It does not appear that any consideration of potential impacts upon the community, such as, inter alia, the surveying and disposal of hazardous materials, air quality and other health hazard controls, traffic and parking mitigation, and storm water management has occurred to date. See 6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 617.7(c). Moreover, it appears that the District has summarily dismissed without substantively evaluating whether constructing an entirely new building would (a) avoid or substantially mitigate these impacts, or (b) result in the most educationally appropriate and fiscally responsible project. Indeed, the District's list of consultants that was recently disclosed to the public does not include any planning or engineering professionals typically retained to evaluate the magnitude of these types of impacts.

To the extent that the District's consultant team has prepared any assessments of potential environmental impacts, it has not occurred in a manner that would permit the community (including the parents of children who will be forced to endure the construction on a daily basis) to understand what has been reviewed, and more importantly, provide their insight as to potential risks which must be avoided. Relying on "paperwork" compiled through a closed-door process to reach a determination of environmental significance would violate the very purpose of SEQRA. Moreover, excluding key stakeholders from the evaluation of potential environmental impacts would certainly not constitute the "hard look" required under SEQRA. Save the Pine Bush, Inc. v. Common Council of City of Albany, 13 N.Y.3d 297 (2009).

The Task Force has retained several experts to evaluate whether the District's current concept would adequately protect the students in the School, or would otherwise result in undesirable consequences upon the community. This team currently includes an indoor and outdoor environmental health and safety consulting firm to evaluate whether any renovations in the School will result in unsafe, and thus unacceptable, conditions for young school children due to the disturbance of asbestos, lead, mold and other hazards present in the School. It also includes a traffic consulting firm to evaluate whether the District's plans will intensify existing traffic congestion and parking deficiencies occurring during peak drop-off and pick-up times in the neighborhood. We also anticipate adding other professionals to the team as our review of the District's progress continues.

We will be submitting the reports of the Task Force's experts for your Record so the District may consider their findings during the SEQRA process. The Task Force will submit these reports well in advance of October, but will need time to undertake certain studies which must occur while school is in session in order to properly evaluate current operating conditions. This includes identifying current and anticipated future traffic and parking levels that can only be accurately measured while school is in session. While we assume that the District will also need to wait until School is back in session to complete its impact assessments, we respectfully request that the District inform the public if it intends to make a SEQRA determination in August or September so that the Task Force may act accordingly. Again, we would question the propriety of the District making any determination under SEQRA before permitting the public to review and comment on the District's impact assessments.

The District has also stated that it plans to convene a District-wide facilities committee and a Greenacres building committee during the summer. We hereby request that representatives from the Task Force be included on both of these committees.

Finally, it is our understanding that several parents and other stakeholders have sought information from the District pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL"). Specifically, there is an outstanding request to review all documents in the District's files relating to the environmental assessments it has undertaken as of July 2017. We are also submitting under separate cover a FOIL Request on behalf of the Task Force for similar materials to provide to their experts. We would hope that the District will expedite its responses to these requests, given the public interest in this matter.

We look forward to working with the District on this matter.
Very truly yours,

ZARIN & STEINMETZ

By: /s/_________________
David J. Cooper
Edward P. Teyber

cc:
Dr. Thomas Hagerman - Scarsdale Superintendent of Schools
Greenacres Elementary Task Force
Mary Beth Evans and Linda Doucette Ashman, League of Women Voters of Scarsdale
Andrew Sereysky, Greenacres Neighborhood Association

Comments   

+2 #17 Architects 2017-08-07 08:59
The architects live in a vacuum and put some numbers on the wall so it can fit into the story. Everybody else will come back and pay for all of those on-going fixes,high maintenance costs and emergency repair that keep popping up thru the operating budget. BBS NEVER showed a long term analysis of all-in costs..but hey the headlines sells and they get their fees and then are gone for other Boards, taxpayers and architects to worry about
Quoting Maria Otello:
People who want a new school should pay more in taxes. Why should the rest of us pay more in taxes, especially when the architects determined that no new school is needed?
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+1 #16 Maria Otello 2017-08-05 13:45
People who want a new school should pay more in taxes. Why should the rest of us pay more in taxes, especially when the architects determined that no new school is needed?
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+19 #15 Accountability first 2017-08-04 22:30
If it weren't for a tone deaf School Board and Hagerman's hubris, concerned Greenacres residents wouldn't have had to hire a law firm to do what any competent Superintendant and board should have done in the first place. Many of us are relieved to see that our decision makers will held accountable for their actions. They thought they could fast track a project of this magnitude and ignore prior findings of engineers. Not so fast.
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+35 #14 Dont rush 2017-08-04 10:36
Now that the renovation has been chosen, can the district slow down a bit to make sure this is done right?
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+26 #13 Good plan but dont take shortcuts 2017-08-04 10:29
I am 100% in favor of this renovation but I agree that the SEQRA process should be taken seriously and all appropriate studies should be done. I do not want the district checking boxes to avoid the real analysis. Once the real SEQRA process is complete, I hope we can all get behind this project.
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-16 #12 Melania T. 2017-08-04 10:29
As a Fox Meadow parent i am concerned about what happens when these sickly Greenacres kids show up at the Middle School.
Should one of the houses be turned into a quarantine zone?
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+16 #11 No worry Will Rogers!! 2017-08-03 20:39
Nope... Those will be left for you to solve.. it should keep you busy for sure..
Quoting Warning Will Rogers - Expert Approuching:
We can only hope that after saving the children of Greenacres that this writer turns his / her attention to saving the rest of us - issues such as global warming, cancer, peace in the Middle East, and why is it that Scarsdale residents waste so much food that they can recycle it in such a large amount are all awaiting this great mind!

Quoting Oh... How obvious!:
All of the 'professionals' that are doing their business according to the law aren't more than 'box ticking' sheets of papers. How many of us have done renos or constructions with highly recommended architects and contractors and have had issues despite their 'experience' in what they are doing.
I grew up in a country with less regulation than US which one hand makes you more self aware of issues. When we did our many renos in our house I knew nothing about "state standards" but I used common sense. I turned around the architect, builder, plumber with questions that are common sense and OBVIOUS to which they started at me like deer in the headlight. I mean big obvious issues on structure, gas line,etc. The 'inspectors' went in a approved it all but NONE could deny my questions- so they had to go ahead and fix all... So yes, it's obvious that common sense is lacking for a lot of those 'people that know what' they are doing'
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+50 #10 Maria Ostello 2017-08-03 19:56
If you are that dissatisfied with the School Administration and the BOE, ask yourself how you can make changes. Maybe relying on a group of about 30 people who behind closed doors decide who should be on the BOE has not worked out so well. Like how the Mayor and Board of Trustees are chosen, when there is no democracy, there is no accountability. Just some food for thought.

Quoting Greenacres Parent:
So you're advocating that the parents of Greenacres children who will be attending school during this project should have blind faith that the District will get this right and not try to cut corners like they have so far? Your trust in them isn't deserved given their actions to date.

The editors of both the Scarsdale Inquirer and Scarsdale10583 along with the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and many Scarsdale residents have expressed concerns about the School Board's decision-making process as it pertains to Greenacres.

The Board has even refused multiple offers from the Greenacres Neighborhood Association to meet with Greenacres parents and residents to discuss their concerns. The District disbanded the former Greenacres Building Committee composed of parents, teachers and residents and neglected to form a new one while their architects worked through several iterations of plans without any outreach to Greenacres parents.

Greenacres parents would be foolish to place their faith in a School Board and District with that kind of record.

Quoting Stating the Obvious:
Wasted money on unneeded attorneys.
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+20 #9 Resident 2017-08-03 18:23
Do we, as a town, feel comfortable doing a project that parents are so nervous about they will pull their kids? My kids are older but I feel for these parents. I can't imagine moving to Scarsdale and then finding out that this project will be the reality of 2-3 years of my young child's elementary school experience. Is this 100% safe? How disruptive will it be? I think people expect better of Scarsdale. We all moved here for the schools.
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+5 #8 Robert Berg 2017-08-03 17:45
The concerns raised by the translucent, anonymous Greenacres Task Force are certainly valid and deserve answers from the District and its architects and consultants. It would give the group much more credibility if they would at least identify their leaders. In any event, I applaud this group for retaining local counsel which appears to have considerable experience in these challenging areas of construction, SEQRA, land use and development.

While it is unfortunate that the Board and Administration hasn't been able to effectively communicate how the safety of the children and staff will be protected during the renovation and construction process, I'm sure the Task Force's attorneys will assure, through FOIL requests and interactions with the Board at public meetings that all the concerns are responded to appropriately.

At the end of the day, I expect that we will be relatively satisfied with the path chosen. Safe renovations of old buildings are done every day across the country and there's little reason to fear that our Board and Administration will cut any reasonable corners regarding safety.

Will some Greenacres parents still be upset and pull their kids from the school during construction? I'm sure they will, and that is their right. But before we vote on this bond we will have the relevant safety information to guide our decision, and the Greenacres Task Force will have helped to bring us to that point.
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