Fuller and D’Angelo P.C. Architects and Planners drawing of what concept 18, built above Tamarack Road and the parking lot, would look like. The new gym building would be built into the hill on College Avenue, which is shown as the leftmost addition. 
Courtesy of Fuller and D’Angelo P.C. Architects and Planners
Fuller and D’Angelo P.C. Architects and Planners drawing of what concept 18, built above Tamarack Road and the parking lot, would look like. The new gym building would be built into the hill on College Avenue, which is shown as the leftmost addition. Courtesy of Fuller and D’Angelo P.C. Architects and Planners
<
1
2
3
>

Due to the overlap of changed dates, the Port Chester Bond Advisory Committee met twice in less than a week on Thursday, Oct. 13 and Tuesday, Oct. 18.

During these two meetings, the members learned how state aid is granted from a brief presentation by Assistant Superintendent Maura McAward and used this information to pick the best, and possibly most aid-able building option for Port Chester High School. Using the December 2015 bond as an example, McAward said out of the $41.5 million bond total, only $18 million was considered aid able due to the number of Building Aid Units. Of that $18 million, 66 percent would be aid able. 

During the Thursday meeting, the board voted to only consider concept 1, which is the addition on College Avenue, and concept 18 due to potential high price tags with the other two plans because of their large square footage.

“You have to think of the students,” Pat Sutton reminded her fellow board members during the Oct. 13 meeting. “You have number 18, you have the flow of the students, both floors, easy access, the parking. Think of the students. That’s why we’re here.”

On Tuesday, the committee put forth a motion to present concept 18 to the Board of Education. This plan has the floating two-story structure above Tamarack Road and adds a gym on College Avenue by digging into the hill and reconfiguring the current gym area into locker rooms, offices and hallways. The proposal passed with a vote of 13 for and 11 against. For a breakdown of the vote, please refer to the sidebar.

Until the committee is informed of how much state aid concept 1 and concept 18 might receive, both are still on the table. This might not be the final decision of the committee, but for now it is the one they are moving forward with.

In order to make this decision, the members spent all of Oct. 18’s meeting discussing the pros and cons of the remaining two drawings. After Fuller and D’Angelo P.C. Architects and Planners tweaked the concepts based on suggestions from the committee, both of the plans came out to be fairly balanced in the number of classrooms and estimated costs. The major differences were size, room usage and location.

School Construction Consultants, Inc. did a cost analysis on both structures. The cost of concept 1 came out to be an estimated $49.2 million and concept 18 is predicted to cost $49.9 million.

Architect Joe Fuller explained that construction costs have gone up 10 percent since the $41.5 million bond vote in December. If that bond would go up for a vote again today, the price tag  would have increased to around $45.65 million. He also guessed that both plans would get about the same amount of state aid, but he could not be sure.

The price tags visibly shook many of the committee members and the room was filled with long breaths and shaking heads.

“It’s $50 million,” Tom Corbia said. “Now what may have to happen is we may only be able to do part of this project. You can’t put a $70 million bond in front of the people. I’m speaking as devil’s advocate here. If we build concept 18 and just renovate the old gym, that might do it. We need the classrooms. You need to kiss a few frogs before you find a princess.”

As cost-practical as this idea might sound, some members did not agree with it.

Laura Luzzi toured the high school while it was in session and knows how bad the current gym is for classroom instruction.

“When I walked into the gym section, I was appalled,” she said to Corbia. “There was one class upstairs that was all girls and there was no space for them to put their belongings. Their sneakers and backpacks were all on the staircase.” When she brought this point up to the principal as a potential safety hazard during an emergency situation, Mitchell Combs explained to her that he hadn’t thought of that and it needed to be addressed immediately.

“This is our chance, this is our only opportunity,” Luzzi continued. “We don’t know what the costs are going to come out to. That number you see, we’re going to get aid for that. We have to do the right thing.”

Maureen Josephson echoed Luzzi’s statement by saying, “you can’t have kids packed like sardines.”

Ken Force, who was the man who pushed to get the Port Chester High School Band into the Rose Bowl, explained that when he was hired to teach band at Port Chester High School over 40 years ago, he was never told that the students did not have a music room. He learned that the first day on the job, and when he complained to the principal, he was told that the school would have a separate room for the band students in about five years. But that room never came.

“That’s why I’m sitting on this board now,” Force said.

“This band is the pride of Port Chester,” he continued. “That band kept kids in this school district and they deserve their own band room. And the chorus deserves the same thing. The arts are needed. Yes, it’s going to be a little bit expensive, but I’ve heard all of this before.”

“And not every child is an athlete,” he concluded in reference to the school needing a new gym or an artificial turf field.

After a couple of minutes listening to the discussion, Chairperson Ana Gonzalez spoke up against Corbia’s suggestions. She explained that she has seen schools in Yonkers that have fallen apart because the buildings were not taken care of when they needed to be.

“Let’s fix it now,” Gonzalez said.

Here is an overview of concept 18 and how the Bond Advisory Committee is currently proposing to fix the overcrowding at the high school. This is a working concept, meaning it will undergo changes as it is presented to the school board. If this plan goes through to the building stage, the rooms might have to be slightly rearranged due to sizing for stairs, bathrooms and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Concept 18

Two two-story buildings connected by a glass walkway would be built above Tamarack Road and the parking lot. The state representative was more favorable of this plan because the walkway in the middle did not greatly interrupt the view of the façade and because the additions were only attached to the building by two walkways on the College Avenue and Neuton Avenue wings.

On the Neuton Avenue side, there would be a band room, a computer lab and support classrooms on the second story. The third floor would be home to a choir room and science labs.

College Avenue’s addition would have most of the new classrooms. In total, there would be about 17-18 rooms.

A competition gym would be added adjacent to the old gym on College Avenue set into the hill so it would be on grade with the current locker rooms. The old gym would be renovated into new locker rooms, physical education and athletics offices, and hallways with stairs. On the floor above the locker rooms, there would be a new weight room and a multipurpose room.

Opposition

With 11 votes against concept 18, a couple of the committee members expressed their distaste, but many held their tongue to see how state aid predictions would unfold. Others made their opinions clear at the meeting prior to the vote where the board narrowed down their choices to concepts 1 and 18.

During the Oct. 13 meeting, Tom Ceruzzi said, “You all know my position on touching this building, but as you grow older, you temper. I’m going to tell you from my experience that [concept] one is the only viable option because it takes care of all your needs. It puts the atrium in. I think option one is probably the best one to do, it’s probably going to cost a few bucks, but we don’t know that. It meets all your needs and it’s less obtrusive.”

Board members then asked if concept one meets McAward’s prediction that the school district can get 66 percent of the build funded by state aid, would it be supported by the Port Chester Tax Payers Alliance.

By Ceruzzi’s logic, this choice is the second smallest addition, the first being concept 14 which was put up for a vote last December but failed to pass, and therefore would be the cheaper option.

When pressured to respond if the Tax Payers Alliance would support the plan under those conditions, Corbia said, “Our answer is yes, and Westmore News can quote us on that!”

Until Maura McAward can give a guess about what state aid the project might be eligible for, Ceruzzi and Corbia will tentatively stand by concept one.

Moving on to the elementary schools

Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus spoke for a short while about the needs of the Port Chester elementary schools on Oct. 13.

“We have 20 cultures in our classroom, we’re unique,” Kliszus said. “If you’re a teacher, the challenges are much higher.”

“We’re bouncing kids out of their neighborhood schools,” Kliszus added. “JFK is the hot spot.”

John F. Kennedy Magnet School is the hot spot with 872 students currently enrolled, according to the Basic Educational Data System survey of current enrollment, which was completed on Oct. 5. The second highest enrollment is at Thomas A. Edison School with 427, but no additions can be built at that location. Park Avenue School has 424 students and King Street School has 416.

Because of the high enrollment, some parents were not allowed to send their children to JFK and had to put them into the closest neighboring school. In order to remedy the overcrowding, JFK would need seven classrooms, a special education room and a speech aid classroom, Kliszus explained.

The second biggest point of contention is Park Avenue School due to the lack of building space at Edison.

To fix the issues, Fuller suggested that the board take a closer look at JFK and Park Avenue School with regards to cost and then give the architects a charge to look at King Street School to see if there is any room in the budget to add more than just 50 parking spaces, items such as a gym, renovating an old classroom into offices and adding two large academic spaces.   

The architect proposed building at JFK’s upper school. This addition would add a new gym/cafeteria and over 10 new classrooms. The lower building might be able to receive a renovated media center.

For Park Avenue School, Fuller pulled out the structure’s original plans, which had a total of four classrooms built on the second and third floor above the current kindergarten rooms.

As far as the middle school goes, there will be no projected issues with overcrowding. The school currently has 1,017 students.

“We could easily spend $50 million at any of our schools to do upgrades,” the superintendent said. “It boils down to what our community can pay for.”

Committee members

The Port Chester Bond Advisory Committee is made up of 29 people. They are Rosemarie Barone, Joan Carriero, Thomas Ceruzzi, Thomas Corbia, Susan-Anne Cosgrove, Kenneth Force, George Ford, Ana Isabel Gonzalez, Stephen Greto, Gregory Guarino, Jody Helmle, Richard Hyman, Maureen Josephson, Joseph Lodato, Laura Luzzi, Heather Mateus, Kevin McFadden, Keith Morlino, Chrissie Onofrio, Denise Quinn, Patricia Rinello, Eric Rios, Elizabeth Rotfeld, Lou Russo, Jennifer Sanders, Debra Scocchera, Stephen Simmons, Patricia Sutton and Albert Wesley.

Gonzalez is the chairperson, Simmons is the secretary and Morlino is the alternate chair.