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Green, Modern are Themes for Big Bedford School Overhauls

Bedford Central officials take new approach to major construction plans.

Bedford Central school officials are taking a new approach in explaining the district's proposal for major building overhauls.

Nearly six months after the last capital planning presentation, officials gave a major update at Wednesday's school board meeting, one that was more thematic and aspirational than simplying analyzing proposals in a nutshell as had been done last summer and fall.

Superintendent Jere Hochman noted the problem with the previous approach taken to looking at the proposals, which now include a major renovation of , and new science labs and cafeteria space for .

“But it really was that we were all keen on to the fact that there really was no excitement, and maybe it’s because of the tax cap, maybe it’s because of everything that was going on," he said. "Maybe it’s because we focused on trying to be so prudent and so cautious about that, that we talked about bricks and mortar, roofs and water, and we didn’t really get into what’s going to happen and what’s going to happen with kids.”

The presentation, which focused on the administration's recommendations, did not include cost figures or a likely bond referendum timeline, as those will be explored in the future.

“Tonight’s conceptual," Hochman said. "You’re not going to hear very much about dollars and cents,” noting this also applies to technical information.

In the case of West Patent, which was built in 1970 and has taken on a dilapidated look, doing a renovation is seen as the best solution, rather than a mulled last fall, with the building's structure is still seen as usable. The update comes due to an engineering look at the property by firm Divney Tung Schwalbe, according to Mark Betz, the district's assistant superintendent for business.

“We began to look at it as a strong skeleton," Hochman said.

The superintendent, who jogs down nearby West Patent Road, compared fixing the school to a renovation going on with a nearby home that is underway.

“And that’s the concept we’re talking about. It’s flipping a school so that it’s not just renovated, it’s new, it’s modern, it feels good.”

The overhaul for West Patent could profoundly change the character of the building. Conceptual renderings shown - they are not specific plans - envision possibly changing the facade and creating a clear and grand main entrance. A system for mitigating moisture and water problems at the building - the site has a high water table - could also be integrated into the students' learning.

“With this capital plan, we have an opportunity to turn what was considered West Patent’s liabilities and limitations into its best features," said West Patent Principal Vera Berezowsky.

Adding solar panels to the roof was also discussed as a possibility for powering the building, along with having a way to collect and use rain water.

West Patent's students come from Mount Kisco, Bedford and New Castle.

Fox Lane Middle School is seen as having its own problems. A building that is currently at 110 percent of capacity for people, the school has a crowding issue with its cafeteria and science labs that are seen as outdated.

“What’s changed in the 50 years is that our cutting edges have become dull," said middle school Principal AnneMarie Berardi. "The labs are no longer cutting edge.”

Updated science labs are seen as helping to support a modern curiculum, while a cafeteria overhaul is viewed as providing for a new, major gathering space for events.

Chief among the themes discussed is one of sustainability and energy efficiency, which would lead to buildings that are greener.

Andrew Patrick, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, noted that the school designs should support a high-performance environment for learning and working, empower occupants to more closely monitor energy and water usage, and have spaces that are flexible and adaptable. An example of the later theme is to allow for West Patent to change classrooms from open to closed spaces, and vice versa.

Giving examples of this holistic approach, Berezowsky noted that parts of the elementary school, down to an energy metering system and mitigating the high water table, can be used as ways to teach students in their classes.

The schools are not the only part of the recommendations. Others include replacing the turf field and fixing the track at as part of a 10-year cycle. Also considered are top-priority fixes for infrastructure across several schools for things ranging from roofs to electrical and plumbing work.

Beth Staropoli, Fox Lane's athletic director, extolled the virtures of the turf field, built in the early 2000's, and noted that it has been very durable. However, she worries about how soon it may be deemed unsafe for further use. The track, meanwhile, has not hosted competitive events in several years.

Staropoli noted that the track and field serve as a place for community events throughout the district, such as and for all elementary schools in the district.

The sense of supporting the community was another big theme discussed. Aside from the track and field, there was talk during the meeting about a renovated West Patent being able to have the flexibility to host programs that benefit the broader Bedford Central community.

Although specific costs were not given for the plan, Betz noted that ways to keep down the amount of borrowing for the project would be looked at. They include performance contracting, where a contractor does the work for a low price up front so energy savings from the work will pay for the cost over time. The savings have to be proved in order for payment of the money from the savings to be given, Betz explained.

Another alternative funding area includes philtranthropy from private sources, something that is not without precedent. According to Betz, part of the high school's current stadium area, such as the press box, were paid for with donations.

School board members expressed interest in what was presented.

“It’s like being at the world’s fair," said board member Andrew Bracco, who wondered whether the changes to West Patent could be replicated at the district's other elementary schools. Hochman said that some of the work could be done elsewhere.

Board President Susan Elion Wollin asked about whether West Patent, under the renovation, could handle student overflow from elsewhere in the district. Betz replied that they want to make sure construction does not inhibit future decisions. The renovation would not decrease space, but rather it would be reconfigured.

The board will here another update, including a timeline, at its June 27 meeting.

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