To build at the high school or not is the dilemma facing the Port
Chester School District.
After a failed bond referendum in December that would have
created an addition on the Park Avenue side of the historic building, school officials
went back to the drawing board to look at more options. Due to accusations the district
did not solicit enough community input before, the school board is creating an
advisory committee to weigh in on the design.
Although overcrowding persists throughout the district, at no
place is it more of a problem than at the high school, which will reach maximum
capacity next year. There are only two ways to fix the issue: increase the
available space or decrease the number of students in the building.
Based on that rationale, the architectural firm hired by the
district has come up with three broad concepts.
“They’re meant for discussion. They’re open. They’re flexible, but
they’re what we think—through our many years of knowledge of the district—is a
reasonable approach to what needs to be done to meet the criteria,” said Joseph
Fuller of Fuller and D’Angelo P.C, Architects and Planners. “It’s a mix of both
providing for the ninth grade at the high school and not.”
Option one: an addition at PCHS
Building an addition to alleviate overcrowding at Port Chester
High School makes the most sense academically, said Superintendent Dr. Edward
Kliszus, Jr. “The problem is there’s resistance to building anything at that
place,” he added.
Still, Fuller and D’Angelo came up with two possibilities: an
addition on the corner of Tamarack Road and College Avenue or one spanning the
parking lot on Tamarack Road. Both expansions are similar to plans considered
by the school district about a decade ago that were discarded for one reason or
another. As expanding the current gym would be a costly undertaking and render
the site inoperable for at least half a year during construction, the
architects recommended renovating the existing gym without touching its
footprint and instead constructing a championship-sized gymnasium at the rear
of Park Avenue School. It is possible band and choral spaces could be included
“This is an option to build the gym somewhere else,” Fuller told
the school board during a workshop on June 1. “It’s basically one campus
As there is also overcrowding in the elementary schools, the
architects drew up plans to expand the upper school at John F. Kennedy. Depending
on the size of the addition, it is possible the district could close the Early
Learning Center, where kindergartners through second graders attend classes.
Option two: new building at PCMS
Last year the school board debated relocating either the ninth
grade or fifth grade to an addition at Port Chester Middle School. In the end,
they opted to do neither. Now the idea is being revisited with both grades
relocating to the middle school.
The existing structure on Bowman Avenue could become a seventh
through ninth grade building with a championship-size gym built onto it.
Besides the junior high-style setup, a separate four-story building would be
constructed to hold the sixth grade and the fifth grade, the latter which would
be removed from the elementary schools.
Another possibility is to create an addition at the rear of the
middle school for fifth graders. This design was originally included in last
year’s scope but removed because of cost concerns. A separate building would
also be required to serve as a ninth-grade academy, but it would not need to be
In both cases the new free-standing building would be opposite
the middle school, where the Giving Garden is located.
“You can build this structure without impacting education,”
If desired, the addition at JFK could still be built in order to close
Option three: transformation of PAS
The final suggestion from the architects is to convert Park
Avenue School into a ninth grade academy and build additions at JFK and King
Street School to hold the displaced elementary school students.
“It’s exactly the right size for the ninth grade criteria,”
Some classrooms would likely need to be converted into labs or lab
space would need to be built at PAS. As with the first option, a
championship-size gym would be created at the rear of the school.
Through redistricting, the students who would have attended Park
Avenue School would be split between JFK, which would get the addition on the
upper school, and KSS, which would gain an addition near Upland Street.
Under this scenario, the ELC would likely remain open.
All of the design options include the renovation the existing gym
at the high school, as well as an artificial turf field, a concession stand and
a press box at the site.
Thoughts on the plans
While Anne Capeci liked the idea of building at the middle school
where the district has the most available space, fellow school board member
Carolee Brakewood worried about the pushback from the community, which did not
like the idea of moving even one grade to Port Chester Middle School. Assistant
Superintendent Maura McAward also questioned the feasibility of a 5-9 campus.
Brakewood favored one of the additions to the high school, but
board President Bob Johnson did not think it a good idea.
“I’m not touching the high school. I got burned last time,” said
Johnson, referring to the failed referendum.
“Smart man,” chimed in Tom Cerruzi, one of three community
members to attend the school board workshop on June 8.
While on opposite sides for the previous project, both Johnson,
whose son attended PAS, and Cerruzi, who attended Park as a child, thought
transforming the elementary school made the most sense.
“That’s a smart plan,” Cerruzi said.
“I like that plan,” agreed Johnson.
Brakewood, too, admitted the idea had merit, as did the
superintendent. Although Kliszus’ first choice would be to build at the high
school, he said the Park Avenue plan came in second place and was more
politically-palatable for the community.
Still, Brakewood and Capeci were not sold on the idea of
eliminating an elementary school and how that would play in the community.
“These questions will be addressed by the committee,” Kliszus
“Let them wrestle with it,” agreed school board member Jim
Apply to be on the committee
Currently, the school district is soliciting applications for the
bond advisory committee. The group is tasked with examining, reviewing and making
recommendations regarding a new building project to be proposed by the Board of
Education. The committee will not have any decision-making authority, as the
school board has the final say in what they choose to put before the community
in a referendum.
Once the applications are in—and they can be submitted in person
to the district office or through email—the school board will choose a maximum
of 25 members “to ensure a broad and diverse representation of community
stakeholders,” according to the application. Members are required to attend at
least two monthly committee meetings for three months and should conduct
business in a manner that models respect and civility, according to the group’s
The forms can be downloaded from the district’s homepage,
PortChesterSchools.org, or requested by calling the district office at 934-7901.
The applications are due by July 15.