When Bedford Central School District board members got a chance to give their feedback on a proposed overhaul of West Patent Elementary School, their consensus was that it should be more ambitious.
When feedback from given at this week's meeting, board member Graham Anderson suggested the most radical change for further review: replace West Patent altogether with a brand-new building on the same property and make it larger.
“I wouldn’t repair it," Anderson said about the current school's structural quality. "I’d tear it down. I don’t think it’s worth restoring.”
The bigger building, Anderson argued, could be used to absorb students from another elementary school, which in turn could be closed. The district is slated to have 150 fewer students at the elementary level in 10 years from now, he explained, which would make this viable.
The last time an elementary school in the district was closed was in the 1980s, when smaller enrollment lead to the mothballing of Bedford Village Elementary School. It was reopened in the early 1990s.
While starting from scratch would cost more than the current main proposal—a and gutting of two main pods—Anderson argued that historically low interest rates on bonds will help.
“If you want to borrow, if you want to do something bold, now is the time to do it,” he said.
Fellow board member Jennifer Gerken asked about doing a study to look into the cost and get more information on what closing an existing school would mean coupled with Anderson's proposal.
West Patent, built in 1970, is the only one of Bedford Central's five elementary schools that has not received a major reconstruction since it was built. Structural problems with it include the fact that it is situated too close to the water table, and of the building materials originally used.
Prior to the discussion, the main proposal being considered was called "Option A," one of three that was looked at and recommended in June by a Capital Planning Committee partly due to its low cost. It is part of a broader Capital Plan that includes proposed renovations to Fox Lane Middle School, district-wide roof work and a series of smaller repair items, all of which total more than $64 million in estimated costs. The Capital Plan, in turn, is part of a broader Consolidated Plan for Bedford Central, which includes looking at areas including the fiscal and curriculum futures of the distrct.
Under Option A for West Patent, the water table problem would be addressed by pitching water away from the building, collecting it and draining it away, according to Armand Quadrini of KSQ Architects, which did the designs. The exterior materials, including wood, original windows and concrete, would see replacement or rehabilitation under any scenario. The reconstruction would give West Patent a 50-year life span, he explained.
Other board members also wanted to look the possibility at a more enhanced version of Option A, which would include renovations to common spaces in the school. There was also an interest in making the building more environmentally sustainable. School Board President Susan Elion Wollin, noting a recent New York Times article about an incentive program for older commercial buildings to be retrofitted, wanted to get more information on whether something similar could be done in the district.
Describing the building's problems, West Patent Principal Vera Berezowsky, noting that when she first started at the school, “I was welcomed with leaks.” She explained that she would be grateful for anything that is safe, but also wants to see a school that provides for flexible use of instructional spaces.
Martha Hennig, a district resident and member of the Capital Planning Committee, expressed her support for Anderson's proposal. She noted, however, that Option A was chosen by the committee due to mindfulness of keeping costs lower due to a feeling that such a situation is what the community would support.
Wollin emphasized the hypothetical nature of each scenario at this stage, and stated that they have to be respectful of West Patent's neighbors in the community.
With regards to neighborhood impact, the bigger a change for West Patent, the longer and more studied its environmental impact will be to be studied. Armand stated that, under the state's review process, a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) would likely need to be done to examine factors that would affect the area, such as traffic.
Building a completely new school at the site was looked at earlier in the process, with an early estimate placing it at about $10 million more than Option A, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Mark Betz. However, that estimate assumed a building with roughly the same square footage as the existing one.
Going forward, the Capital Planning Committee and Betz will have continuing discussions over what to do for West Patent.
When discussion changed to Fox Lane Middle School, the board's consensus is support, going forward, for something along the lines of "Option A," one of three scenarios studied by the committee and the one it recommended in June. That option is estimated to cost $15.84 million, and would involve science lab renovations and an addition to the cafeteria to provide multipurpose space. The only notable difference discussed during the meeting came from a suggestion Gerken made to have a more affordable new entrance way.
The proposed roof replacements and other fixes, the later are called "Priority 1" items, range from road work, to asbestos removal to interior item replacements. These items were briefly noted at the meeting and appear to have board support as well.