In order to make the decision to change or not to change a
building, touring it and seeing firsthand the problems it faces should be on
the top of the agenda. That is why the Port Chester Bond Advisory Committee did
just that during their second meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Port Chester High School Principal Dr. Mitchell Combs led the
group through the empty halls, and while everyone admired the grandeur of the
stonework, they also put on a serious face when looking at some of the
makeshift classrooms. The first stop on their trip was the balcony above the
auditorium; 30 seats on one side are used for science electives. The second
balcony is used for students who need extra academic help. The only piece of
technology in the space is a Smart Board, and the chairs were modified to have
a small table attached to them.
The second place the committee visited was the auditorium and Band
Director Bob Vitti’s office, which is often used for sectional practices –
sometimes 15 flutists are crammed into the small office and the door has to be
closed so the sound does not disturb the class on the balcony, Combs explained.
The band also does not have a music room; they practice on the auditorium
stage, which sometimes creates a conflict with theatre students.
The next area viewed was a classroom the district had to cut in
half in order to accommodate the large number of students. The space used to be
a large computer lab, but now it is divided by a wall so that one half does not
have a door leading to the hallway. Every inch of space was utilized in the
classes and desks were pushed up against the wall with just enough space for
someone to walk through.
“This is not a regulation classroom,” Combs said. In fact, many
of the high school classrooms are not the state-mandated size of 770 square
The final stop was a classroom that was home to IB History
classes. About 35 desks filled the space. Those on the tour took a moment to
sit down and listen to Combs, who explained this class was about the normal
size you see in the school. He walked down a row and had to stop and say
“please put your backpack under your seat, miss,” to a committee member so he
could walk to the back of the room without tripping. This demonstrated how
narrow the rows were and how little room there was in a regular classroom.
The group then returned to room 219, a large space that is shared
by choir and art students, for their meeting.
“We are at our capacity now,” Combs said. The average number of
students in the classrooms is 27, meaning at any point during the day, every
classroom is filled with 27 students if they are spread out evenly. Obviously
this is never the case because the 40 students in BOCES (Board of Cooperative
Educational Services) programs don’t come to the high school until the
afternoon, there are lunch periods and some classes have a larger attendance
“Added classrooms are important, but we have a gym and a band and
auditorium space that date to the origin,” Combs said to those assembled in Room
219. “There are all kinds of limitations to what we have.”
Teachers also need a space. The high school is home to 99
teachers, about 40 of whom might have a period off at the same time. This means
many of the teachers have nowhere to go for their break or to meet with
students. However, Combs doesn’t expect this to impact faculty retention.
“Effective teachers can handle 10 kids or 35 kids,” the principal
explained. “We try to hire as many of those folks as possible and retain them.
But when they’re not teaching, where do they go? Every classroom is used. The
library has 20-30 kids in it.”
“I don’t have room for 40 teachers,” he concluded. Some of his
faculty sit and read in their cars, and Combs joked that the Starbucks across
the street gets a lot of business from the school.
It has gotten to the point where Combs is planning on asking the
Board of Education for some relief for the next school year in the form of
In order to get an idea of what the classes and halls are like
when school is in session, many of the Bond Advisory Committee members plan on
taking a tour during a school day.
Despite all of this, the high school principal refused to say the
number of classrooms he thought his school needed because he did not want to
put a number in the committee’s head. However, he did say the school has 51
classrooms, three physical education spaces, two art rooms and one music room.
Combs added that if the committee wanted to get rid of the two
classrooms in the basement and the two on the balconies, add a designated music
room, a room for choir and art, and two special education classrooms that were
only used for special education and not shared throughout the day with normal
studies, then the school would need about nine additional rooms. The school
also needs two new science labs, which requires the rooms to have gas and
Will the class sizes continue to rise?
The committee was provided with a future forecast about class
sizes in the Port Chester School District. These numbers are only calculated
predictions and might not represent the actual size of the student populations
in coming years.
The Basic Educational Data System day enrollment data states the
total number of students at Port Chester High School for the 2016-17 year is 1,435,
which is 85 more than in 2015-16.
To compare, the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District
10-year enrollment forecast done by Urbanomics, Inc. for 2014 to 2025 stated
this year the high school would have 1,432 students. The same study predicts at
its highest populace in 2019-20, the high school is expected to have around
1,586 students, which is an increase of 154 over this year’s data.
The same upward trend is expected for the middle and elementary
schools, with their numbers topping out in 2019-20 and beginning to level off.
The middle school will be at its highest population with a predicted 1,074
students and all of the elementary schools combined are anticipated to peak at
However, the numbers are not expected to drop back down to what
they currently are. The last year in the study is 2024-25 and the high school
population sits at 1,559. The middle school is showing a decrease to 995 and
the elementary schools will drop to around 1,894.
In total, the highest number of students the district expects to
see in 2019-20 is 4,713. In 2024-25, the total number is expected to be around
The next step
The Bond Advisory Committee is ready to look forward to future
students. In a formal vote, the board attacked the question of whether they
thought moving the ninth graders out of the high school and making Park Avenue
School into a ninth grade academy or clumping them into the middle school were better
options than keeping the grade in the high school. Currently, the freshman
class is the largest with about 497 students.
Chairperson Ana Gonzalez took note that the committee approved
the motion of keeping the ninth graders in the high school.
Therefore, with the understanding that they would have to build
at the high school to accommodate the influx of students, the members pushed
forward to create a plan.
They decided to do away with the different school subcommittees
and tackle the larger problems as a whole. Subcommittees for athletics, the
early learning center and energy efficient construction will still work towards
gathering data and figuring out what is needed and what is not. Athletics will
focus on whether or not to add an artificial turf field, a press box, an
instructional space for instrumental/choral programs and a regulation-sized gym
in the high school. The ELC committee will look at whether keeping the
institution, which is housed in rented space at the former Holy Rosary School,
is an economically wise decision for the future. And the energy efficient subcommittee
will research sustainable building ideas. There will be some overlap between
the large committee discussion and what the subcommittees bring to the table.
But every big decision needs a starting point.
“We’re going to have to start with the high school,” member
George Ford said.
Pat Rinello echoed her sentiment from the Sept. 13 meeting by
saying the high school is the flagship. Everything will trickle down after the
board decides what the high school needs the most.
“It’s going to be a tough road ahead of us in order to
accommodate its architectural integrity,” Rinello said, if the board decides to
build onto the high school.
Therefore, the board’s next meeting will be all about Port
Chester High School. They will discuss exactly what the high school needs and
figure out how to accommodate those needs. This includes the possibility of
extending the wings on the building on the corners of Neuton and College avenues
on Tamarack Road. They will also be looking at Fuller and D’Angelo P.C.
Architects and Planners’ drawings from the failed bond referendum, such as an
addition to the north side, which adds a gym, three-story classrooms and a central
entrance gallery, a three-story addition to the auditorium wing, which adds eight
science classrooms and a music suite, two ideas of a single story addition to
the field side of the building, which would add eight or nine science
classrooms, a new gym and create a new library in the old gym space, and others.
They will meet next Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in Room 219 at
The Port Chester Bond Advisory Committee is made up of 30 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 Saunders, Debra Scocchera, Stephen Simmons, Patricia Sutton and Albert Wesley.
Gonzalez is the chairperson, Simmons is the secretary and Morlino
is the alternate chair.