It’s been a long two months for the Bond Advisory Committee (BAC),
and now the group can disband because the Port Chester Board of Education voted
unanimously to approve their recommendation for a $78.66 million bond during
their Tuesday, Nov. 29 meeting.
This approval makes it possible for the board to discuss and vet
the recommendation, as well as open a dialogue with the State Office of
Historic Preservation (SHPO) and delve into the project’s environmental impact
as required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
The final vote that decides whether or not this bond or some
modification of it will go to the public for a vote will take place during the
Board of Ed’s Feb. 7 meeting at 7 p.m. in the Port Chester Middle School
Over 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, but only two who were
not involved with the BAC asked questions about the plan. One gentleman came up
and tried to propose his own plan, but he was shot down due to the fact that it
was too late to submit new ideas and he failed to attend a BAC meeting as
recommended to him by the board.
The other was John F. Kennedy Magnet School PTA Executive Board member and parent Ingrid Perez who was concerned about the Early Learning Center at the former Holy Rosary
School and wanted to know if any of the new classrooms at JFK could be used for
some of the classes currently in the ELC. However, it is too early for the
board to answer that question.
The BAC’s final comments
All of the BAC members who spoke thanked the board for giving
them the opportunity to be on the committee. Many of them cited how diverse all
of their opinions were.
“At times we agreed, at times we disagreed,” George Ford said.
“It became heated, it became emotional.”
“We don’t want to build a school of yesterday, we want to build a
school of tomorrow,” he added.
He concluded that if this bond gets passed, it will show everyone
that Port Chester is open for business, not just on Main Street, but in their
school system as well.
BAC secretary Stephen Simmons pointed out that their final vote to
approve their recommendation was nearly unanimous with of 20 in favor, two
against and one abstention.
“When we started, this wasn’t a slam dunk, there were people on
both sides of the fence,” Simmons said. “We went from a split room to 90
percent of people saying we want to move forward, which tells me this is a
mandate. This isn’t a willy-nilly kind of thing.”
Those who opposed the recommendation also stepped forward to
speak. Tom Ceruzzi reminded the board that this is on their shoulders now to
make sure that, if they choose to approve a construction plan in February, it is
Tom Corbia echoed Ceruzzi’s statement and urged the board to
consider alternative ideas, such as Richard Hyman’s plan which added classrooms
to the back of the high school wings on Tamarack Avenue and renovated the
Hyman said that the December 2015 referendum was the only bond he
voted against because he said he felt it destroyed the high school.
“My concern is we now approved a bond that is twice the size of
the bond that failed last time,” he said. But despite his abstentions and his preference
for another plan, he promised to support what the BAC proposed.
“I will vote for the bond,” he said. “I feel unenthusiastic about
the [high school] gym, but it’s not as bad as the previous plan.” He referred to
the failed bond last December which placed the gym in front of the façade and
obstructed the view of the school from Park Avenue.
“I know you’re going to have to sharpen your pencils and figure
out how much is doable, but I would hope you keep an open mind in terms of
other alternatives,” Hyman added. “But as I’ve said, I will support the bond.”
The Board of Ed’s discussion
One voice stood out against the crowd during the Board of
Education’s discussion. Anne Capeci fought hard to try and vet the proposal
before it was accepted by the board. She wanted to know how much cheaper the
high school would be if the gym on College Avenue wasn’t built.
It would be about $5-6 million cheaper if they renovated the
existing gym instead of building a new one, according to the numbers sent to
them by principal architect Joe Fuller of Fuller and D'Angelo, P.C. Architects
“Maybe the community wants everything and that’s great, but as
elected people, we have to decide whether we put up a bond that will pass,” she
Capeci’s opinion rang true with a few members of the audience,
who clapped during her statements. But Dreves and Carolee Brakewood pointed out
that the board was voting on whether or not to accept this recommendation so
they are able to cut it down in the future if they feel it necessary.
“The recommendations made by the committee felt that the high
school needed a good gym,” Dreves said. “If we vote to go forward with this, we
would get information and then we can make some changes. All we were asked to
do tonight is look at the recommendation and see if it was on par with what we
asked of the committee.”
“What we need to do is find out what sort of state aid we’re
going to get,” he continued. “Let’s find out what we have.”
But Capeci was quick to jump in. “Let’s find out an amount we feel
that we can pass as a board,” she countered.
Vice President Christopher Wolff jumped in to try and break up
the argument as well as offer his view. Wolff explained that he is very excited
about the recommendation and happy that the BAC was so transparent with the
board about the entire process.
“I don’t disagree with you,” Capeci said. “But to me personally,
I would have liked for them to look at the middle school. It was my
understanding that they decided that wasn’t what they wanted to do.”
The BAC voted that the middle school, although it does have the
most space for new additions, was not the biggest problem in front of them.
They did not want to move the fifth graders to the middle school and opted to
try and solve the overcrowding in four out of the six Port Chester schools, the
exceptions being Thomas A. Edison Elementary and PCMS.
At the end of the discussion, Dreves said one final thing before
he asked for a vote.
“You took the bull by the horns and took it to the elementary
schools and said ‘this is what we need’ and that took courage,” he said to the
BAC. “You addressed all the needs of the school district for the very long foreseeable
future. I support this concept completely.”
“I understand the concerns of Ms. Capeci that it is $78 million,
but we are voting on this for further discussion so we ultimately know the real
total cost of what this bond will be,” the president continued. “I support
what’s out there, but I don’t mind looking [into alternatives].”
“We need to go forward, and we really need to go forward, Ms.
Capeci, with a 5-0. This is not the final vote. This is a vote to further
discussion,” he concluded.
An effort for PR
The Board of Education also unanimously approved looking at the
public relations firms that answered their request for proposals. Capeci
thought it was wrong to hire a PR firm to “sell the bond,” but Dreves explained
he doesn’t want them to sell it, only to educate the community.
“We’re communicating with Baby Boomers and older,” Dreves said. “Under
50s are not getting the message.”
The board all voted to allow Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus to
look at the available PR firms and get back to them with what it could cost
them. If the price tag got too high, the board would pull the plug on the deal.
The deadline to submit proposals was Wednesday, Nov. 30.
The BAC’s recommendation
The BAC proposed an estimated $78.66 million bond to the Board of
Education. The cost and the plans are subject to change during the board’s
Port Chester High School
would receive a two-story addition above the parking lot on Tamarack Road that
creates better student foot traffic on the second floor. There would be about
17-18 new rooms, including classrooms, science labs, a band room, a choir room
and a computer lab. A competition sized gym would be added adjacent to the old
gym on College Avenue and the current gym would be renovated into new locker
rooms that would be on the same floor as the new gymnasium, a weight room and a
multi-purpose room. A new turf field, concession stand and repairs to the exterior
bleachers would also be added. This project is estimated to cost around $49.9
John F. Kennedy Magnet
School would get an addition to the lower building. Six new classrooms
would be built inside the maintenance space behind the school and two would be
created on the second story above the new rooms. The maintenance area would be
relocated below a new gymnasium, which would be on the same side as the current
gym. This idea is projected to cost $15.37 million.
King Street School
would get a new gym, two new classrooms and over 30 new parking spaces. In case
future growth is needed, the new classrooms would be built in such a way that
there would be room for a new two-story hall that could fit over 20 classrooms.
This plan would cost around $10.5 million.
Park Avenue School
would get four new classrooms and an updated media center for about $2.6
Thomas A. Edison School
would not get new classrooms due to the lack of space on the site. The kids
would get a new turf field, which would cost around $291,000.
The Early Learning Center would remain untouched, fifth graders
would stay in the elementary schools and ninth graders would stay in the high
The next Board of Education meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.
at Park Avenue School.
To view Fuller's plans and the BAC's recommendation, please go here: https://ensemble.lhric.org/Watch/WM5tpunkq0OLLEjFoJQTnQ