Port Chester Board of Education member Anne Capeci sits with Christopher Wolff during the Tuesday, Nov. 29 meeting. Capeci was the single voice of contention on the board as she tried to cut the gym from the high school in order to reduce the cost of the potential $78.66 million bond. 
Casey Watts|Westmore News
Port Chester Board of Education member Anne Capeci sits with Christopher Wolff during the Tuesday, Nov. 29 meeting. Capeci was the single voice of contention on the board as she tried to cut the gym from the high school in order to reduce the cost of the potential $78.66 million bond. Casey Watts|Westmore News

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 auditorium.

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 affordable.

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 current gym.

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 and Planners.

“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 said.

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 vetting process.

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 million.

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 million.

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 school.

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