Letter to the Editor: Greenacres: Unrealistic Plans Ignore Need to Relocate Students Off-Site

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Construction-Hard-HatsThis letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Chris and Lynn Marvin: The Scarsdale School District has recently attempted to address widespread safety concerns with the massive $35 million renovation of Greenacres Elementary, Scarsdale's oldest school, by proposing to limit interior construction to two summers. As the parents of three Greenacres students, we agree that interior construction should only be done when the school building is unoccupied, however, we believe that the District's current proposal offers false hope that the Greenacres project can be accomplished safely without the need to relocate students off-site for a longer period of time. Worse yet, it may even exacerbate safety issues.

The current District proposal hinges on the feasibility of completing an extensive interior renovation of half of the school building in just ten weeks, the length of a typical summer break. Those ten weeks must necessarily include sufficient time for, among other things, removal of classroom furniture and supplies, extensive asbestos abatement, removal of flooring in classrooms and corridors, interior demolition, framing of new walls, doors and windows, installation of new electrical wiring and plumbing, installation of flooring, finishing of new walls, painting of classrooms and corridors, replacement of classroom unit ventilators and the reinstallation of all furniture and supplies (with time for teachers to set up their classrooms for the new school year). Of course, the school would also have to be thoroughly cleaned and new flooring and other materials given time to completely off-gas before it would be safe for students to be admitted back into the building.

Can the District really accomplish all of that in just ten weeks? Their recent track record suggests otherwise. The District experienced construction delays this year with summer projects at the High School and Edgewood that left them scrambling to finish before the start of the school year. Reasons for those delays included the discovery of asbestos in areas where none had been anticipated, a significant risk in a school like Greenacres, Scarsdale's oldest, and errors made by the District's contractors, a risk with any construction project, particularly one as extensive and complex as what's been proposed for Greenacres. Even just a few years ago, a planned move of the Greenacres office was postponed from one summer to the next due to delays involving asbestos abatement. That work involved only the renovation of two rooms; the proposed project would involve half of the school building at a time!

As the District may argue, despite their ultimate responsibility for these projects, some reasons for recent construction delays may have been out of their immediate control. But that's precisely the point. The District cannot always anticipate or control the causes of construction delays. Accordingly, the School Board should not attempt to address significant safety concerns by focusing solely on a scenario in which interior construction must begin and be completed in the summer when recent experience suggests that scenario is unlikely to be realistic.

What would happen to Greenacres' students in the event of a construction delay? In that case, as the District scrambled to react, it might try to continue construction with the children back in the school building, putting them in harm's way. Or the District might pressure its contractors to finish the work before the end of the summer by any means necessary, thereby incentivizing them to cut corners wherever possible just to get the job done. The resulting punch list of unsatisfactory work would likely require school-year construction to resolve. Either way, Greenacres' students would lose.

The solution is to relocate Greenacres' students off-site for the duration of the construction project, an idea supported by a majority of the Kindergarten and First Grade parents at Greenacres during the last school year (i.e. parents of children likely to be affected by the renovation).

We urge the School Board to find a way to move Greenacres' students out of the school building and harm's way for as long as it will take to complete the entire Greenacres construction project. We also encourage all concerned Scarsdale residents, whether Greenacres parents or not, to let the School Board hear your concerns. Their e-mail address is: boardofed@scarsdaleschools.org.