It’s been a tough battle for everyone involved, but the date is finally set and the community will be able to decide on Tuesday, Mar. 28, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., if the Port Chester School District needs to undergo a $79.95 million capital project. Polling will take place in the Port Chester Middle School gymnasium.

The decision to put this project up for a public vote passed during the Tuesday, Jan. 31 Board of Education meeting by a vote of 4-1 with board member Anne Capeci dissenting.

If approved, the 24-year average annual cost to Port Chester taxpayers will be $75 per $100,000 of property assessment, according to Focus Media, Inc., the district’s public relations firm. The average property assessment in Port Chester is about $466,300, according to Zillow, which means the average homeowner might see a tax increase of about $350 per year. That means the average homeowner would pay a total of $8,400 towards the bond.

A review of what $79.95M will do

If approved, the $79.95M will go towards five out of the district’s six schools. The board will submit their plans to the State Historic Preservation Office as well as to the New York State Education Department for a full review.

Port Chester High School would receive a two-story, 35,000-square-foot addition above the parking lot on Tamarack Road. The raised structure would house about 17-18 new rooms, including classrooms, science labs, a band room, a choir room and a computer lab.

The school does not currently have a regulation sized gymnasium, which results in a lack of space for gym classes and the inability to hold sports tournaments in the school. Therefore, the Bond Advisory Committee recommended a 14,500-square-foot gym, along with new locker rooms, offices, a hallway, a weight room and a multipurpose room.

A new turf field and concession stand would be added on the field and repairs would be made to the exterior bleachers. This project is estimated to cost around $49.9 million.

Due to the floating structure above Tamarack Road, the high school’s façade will not be touched. Fuller & D'Angelo, P.C. Architects and Planners designed a glass walkway so the faux pillars on Tamarack Road can still be admired. Architect Joe Fuller assured the community that the new construction will be tied into the existing building so the new construction will not stand out.

The school will lose about 11 parking spaces out of the existing 106.

John F. Kennedy Magnet School would get a 3,200-square-foot addition to the lower building. Six new classrooms would be built inside the existing maintenance space behind the school and two more rooms would be created.

The maintenance area would be relocated below a new 7,300-square-foot 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 7,300-square-foot gym, two new classrooms and about 49 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 get a new turf field and stage lighting, which would cost around $291,000.

The Early Learning Center would remain untouched because the building’s rent is $250,000. Due to the low cost, the BAC felt it would be a better investment to keep the building open instead of asking the community to spend more in order to further expand JFK.

If the bond passes, trucks will be using Neuton Avenue, Olivia Street, South Regent Street, King Street and Boston Post Road to access I-287 during construction hours.

Those in favor

Many former members of the BAC addressed the board to speak in favor of the capital project. Former BAC secretary Stephen Simmons said that the committee operated with one goal: to give the students what they need.

“We have serious needs. At Edison, the kids are playing on a dirt patch in the backyard,” Simmons said. “We’re giving them a turf field. At King Street School, they need the classrooms, and yes, we’re giving them a gym so they can have lunch and gym class at the same time.”

He went on to explain that at the King Street campus, the gym and the cafeteria are a shared space, so it is impossible to have gym class during lunch periods and when the tables are being set up and torn down. Adding a new gym alleviates that issue.

Simmons also reiterated that the BAC looked for ways to save money at every turn, such as at JFK. Originally, Fuller & D’Angelo presented an idea to build at the upper school, which would have cost about $22M. Instead, they had Joe Fuller go back to the drawing board to come up with a cheaper concept.

“This is a need-based bond,” Simmons concluded. “There are no frills in this bond. We’ve done everything we can to reduce the cost to taxpayers.”

Lou Russo said that although there is a lot of raw emotion going into the debate of whether the students need $80M worth of improvements to their schools, the emotions should be set aside and voters should stick to the facts.

“You’re not being fair if you take one singular reason and annihilate the whole entire project because of that,” Russo said. “You have to look at all of the benefits that this project has to offer.”

Those opposed

Three people came to the microphone to speak against the bond. Dan Telep accused school board members of not listening and not hearing what the community has said.

“You have not addressed the real reason for the overcrowding of our schools,” Telep said. “None of these proposals address the overcrowding in our schools.”

He cited a Westmore News Letter to the Editor titled “Don’t support us just halfway: Immigrant justice includes housing justice” that was published in the Friday, Jan. 27 edition. Zeltzyn Sanchez’s letter spoke in favor of adding more affordable housing to the former United Hospital site. From the piece, Telep read:

“Allow me to point you to the Illegal Dwelling/Overcrowding Complaint Report published by the Village’s Department of Code Enforcement. This report documents complaints of overcrowded housing in Port Chester. It tells story after story of immigrant families forced to crowd into unsafe attics and basements because there is little other housing available to them. The kinds of families that must squeeze themselves into illegal attic and basement apartments are exactly the people that the Mayor and some of the Trustees claim to welcome to our village.”

He took from Sanchez’s letter to point out that Port Chester’s immigrant population is to blame for the district’s overcrowding. Along with this, Telep said the board was adding insult to injury by spending $40,000 on Focus Media, Inc.

“I would love to own a Rolls-Royce, but I can’t afford it. Just like I can’t afford this bond,” he said.

He ended his statement by saying parents who advocate for the bond because it’s for the children should instead better their kids by teaching them what financial responsibility is.

Tom Ceruzzi, co-chair of the Taxpayers Alliance Group, also stood in front of the board and said TAG is constantly battered with negative adjectives. “We’re the usual suspects, we’re obstructionists, and last year, we were racists,” he listed. This year, they are put in the same position, even though from the beginning he and Tom Corbia said they would support a bond they thought had a chance of passing, Ceruzzi explained.

He is fighting against this bond now because he believes Port Chester residents have essentially become modern day bond slaves and people his age are struggling to keep their homes with the current tax rate.

The final person against the capital project to speak was Corbia. He suggested that the board look into funding an alternative high school to fix overcrowding issues by enrolling students who need the extra time and older students. However, Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus explained that alternative high schools are not for kids who need extra time to graduate – they are for students who cannot learn in a normal classroom and do better in smaller groups. He also adamantly explained that as per New York State law, Port Chester High School has a duty to educate the 19 20-year-olds currently enrolled. Sixteen of those students are going to graduate in the spring.

Corbia’s final ask was for the board to look into and make sure every student who attends Port Chester schools lives in the district, a process the administration is already 40 percent complete with and has resulted in the removal of six students – three of which are from the same family.

A second polling place

A second polling place was briefly considered for this project, but the board found it would be more prudent to discuss adding a secondary location during the budget process. This way, they will have more time to communicate to voters as well as have money allocated for another station. Nothing has been promised, but the board is looking into it.

The next Board of Education meeting is set for Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Port Chester Middle School auditorium.