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November 20 School Board Meeting: Air Conditioning Is Out, Safety Measure for Greenacres Construction Are In

Hot classroomThe Board of Education and Scarsdale Schools administration continued discussions of the proposed 2018 bond referendum at the November 20 meeting and came to agreement on including many of the extra measures recommended by the Greenacres Building Committee in the bond. Furthermore, they reviewed the proposed cafeteria at Greenacres as well as the proposal for a second bond to air condition all district classrooms and install ceiling fans in large group spaces and came to the following decisions:

The estimated cost for air and noise monitoring was reduced from $140,588 each to $100,000 each and the Board voted to include these measures in the plan.

The Board discussed the proposed cafeteria in Greenacres vis a vis parity with other elementary schools that do not have food service. Ultimately they decided that the construction offered the opportunity to include food service at Greenacres and voted to keep the cafeteria in the bond. They said the kitchen at Greenacres would serve only the children at the school and would not be outfitted to cook meals to be transported to other schools, as was suggested at a prior meeting. A district wide food service committee is currently researching food service at all schools and will make recommendations when they complete their work. Board member Art Rublin suggested that the current bond proposal be revised to include cafeterias at Edgewood, Fox Meadow and Heathcote, but the sentiment was that this would delay the referendum date.

Though the Board decided not to include $100,000 for security monitoring of children and construction equipment during school hours, they did state their intention to look into hiring a traffic/security employee to assist with children at drop off, pick-up and crossing to the playground and the fields for recess during the day. This would be funded out of the general operating budget.

Other savings from the previous draft of the proposal were $960,917 for modular classrooms and $597,498 for additional parking.

The board discussed the installation of modular classrooms on the field across the street at a previous meeting and voted against including them as they did not believe they would be needed if the construction went according to plan. Principal Sharon Hill and the teachers at Greenacres preferred to keep the children in the building during the construction rather than use modular classrooms, which they felt would be an inconvenience.

Funds for parking were eliminated after a plan to install 18 parking spaces on Huntington Avenue was nixed because the spaces could cause a safety hazard for emergency vehicles. Though the administration has not shared the reasons, a subsequent plan to build additional spaces elsewhere was also not feasible. As of now, no additional parking spaces are provided for in the bond.

The Board elected to include $168,705 for air conditioning of the old multipurpose room and library at Greenacres as windows in these rooms will need to be kept closed during construction. Concerning air conditioning in the gym, which will now have no windows, Mr. Mattey said there is currently a mechanical fresh air exchange system in the gym that was previously not working correctly but is "currently being addressed." It was noted that the high school gym does not have air conditioning.

Having agreed on the proposal for Greenacres, the Board then turned to a discussion on a recommendation from the district-wide facilities committee to air condition all district classrooms at a cost of $23.935 million and install ceiling fans in large group spaces at a cost of $1.248 million. Assistant Superintendent Mattey estimated that these measures would mean a $350 increase to the tax levy of an average Scarsdale homeowner. The proposal was to do a second referendum for $25,183mm to fund these cooling options.

Scott Silberfein who served on the district wide facilities committee said that he believed that the board should assess all their priorities before proposing air conditioning. He advocated weighing the need for air conditioning vs. food service and other identified facilities needs that will not be funded in the current proposal. Pam Feuhrer agreed, saying we shouldn't rush the decision for "something so big," and Nina Cannon spoke in favor of tax neutrality and said people are concerned with high taxes.

The Board agreed unanimously not to propose a second bond to fund air conditioning and ceiling fans.

In public comments Megan Simon, President of the Greenacres PTA spoke on behalf of the PTA Executive Committee. She advocated for a security monitor at the school to help children safely cross to the playground during construction. She said, "this should not be the responsibility of school aids, and they should not be directing traffic." She asked for air conditioning for the large group spaces at the school including the multipurpose room, library, and the gym so that they would "continue to be usable spaces." She said, "If modular classrooms are not there for contingency, what is the alternative to continue construction?"

Mary Beth Evans, Chair of the LWVS Study Committee clarified her role on the League and asked for the rationale of installing security cameras inside the school. She also asked why the security vestibules at the middle and high schools were removed from the plan. She asked about funding items through the operating budget vs. funding them in the bond and asked for historical spending on capitol and plant improvements. She said, "When will we be able to view the asbestos, lead and mold tests online?" She asked if architectural renderings of the interiors of Greenacres and the courtyard will be available before the bond vote. She also asked about the demographers enrollment projections.

Patricia Schwartz, who served on the Greenacres Building Committee said she was glad that Board had come to consensus on these safety measures. She discussed the construction staging area and advocated for security personnel to help aides with managing children at the playground. About the contingency plan, she asked what will happen if the space is not completed when school opens. She said overtime for construction workers is not a contingency plan and added, "There needs to be a well thought out plan. ... Will the children be moved to other schools? Is there a budget for this?"

Bob Berg said he was glad that the air conditioning is getting "kicked out of the bond." He said air conditioning was the "least green" thing you could do." He said over the past two years there were only two days in June where the temperature went over 90 degrees. He said it is infrequent to "hit those highs." He said, school is out at 2 or 3 o'clock when temperatures peak and advised the board to "Only focus on south and west facing rooms." He said he was shocked that NYC would "air condition 11,500 classrooms for $28 million."

I (Joanne Wallenstein) asked the following:
"Will variances be needed from the State Education Department to build this building to the curb? Why did former Assistant Superintendent Linda Purvis continually say that the building site had been maxed out.?"

"If the basement moistures problems will be remediated with a dehumidification system, why will it not be safe to use the space in the basement? Where are the environmental reports we were promised?"

"Why has a FOIL request that I submitted in July received no response?"

"I echo Pam and Chris's comments that the building committee was not given the opportunity to vet this plan. It was delivered to us in June and since that time there has been no opportunity to vet the building plan. We were told that this was a done deal. We were not given a choice to replace the lead pipes in the building, or to renovate the 100 year-old gym. It would have been good to have some choices about creating a sustainable, environmentally safe space rather than doing the large addition."

About the cafeteria: "Where will there be room for food delivery trucks and a loading dock? Where will the dumpsters go? How will these extra kitchen personnel park?"

Here are a few responses to some of the public comments. Watch the meeting in its entirety here:

About the contingency plans, Stuart Mattey said that contractors will be held to the dates in their contracts, and if they got behind there would be funds for overtime on nights and Saturdays.

When Bill Natbony said, "Come Day 1, if rooms are not ready, what is the contingency,?" Mattey responded, "(Greenacres Principal) Sharon Hill would work with teachers to make sure that all students would have a place to go."

Discussing security cameras, Dr. Hagerman responded that they would be focused on school entrances and record activity around the school. He indicated that cameras were recommended by security consultants and law enforcement.

About the results of the environmental tests, Mr. Mattey said, "Testing results will be out soon." Dr. Hagerman said, "We have been conducting and following up on the original testing and doing a second wave of testing and as soon as those are available we will present them to the Board of Education."

About air conditioning in NYC schools, Mattey said that they are using window units that do not bring in fresh air and would not be permitted by SED during a renovation. He also said that a large electrical upgrade will be required.

In response to my questions about variances, Fred Seba of BBS said, "SED has reviewed it – there are no requirements. We are not bound by local ordinances. We can build right to the property line. We don't have to comply with local code."

Stuart Mattey responded to questions about the cafeteria and parking saying, "Food delivery will be as it is now. Parking will be as it is now... Parking is not part of this project. $600,000 came out of the bond. The second scheme wasn't possible. There is no need for a loading dock and garbage would go where it currently goes."

As of the conclusion of the meeting, the total amount of the bond stood at $64,720,576, down $1.7mm from the previous estimate. The board will meet again on Monday night November 27. On the agenda is an educational report on assessments as well as the SEQRA review for the Greenacres project.

Watch the November 20 meeting here

And see more questions and answers about the bond proposal on the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale website here:

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