BOE Talks Repairs For Crowded Schools

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The Westbury School District began talks on a possible bond vote at the end of the year to pay for repairs and upgrades to district buildings which are filled to over capacity due to explosive student enrollment.

At a Board of Education meeting held Feb. 27, Richard Wiedersum, a principal at architectural firm Wiedersum Associates, presented his recommendations for building improvements. The recommendations were based on an enrollment projection, which forecasts the student population growth over the next 10 years.

Dryden Street School’s capacity is 525 and according to Wiedersum, it is “way over utilized,” with 715 students currently enrolled. The projected student enrollment for 2023 sees a slight bump with 722 students. Wiedersum says that the school needs 11 additional classrooms, a new gym with a stage, more office space, a larger lobby, an art/computer room and upgrades to the basement for storage. The total cost would come to $15.1 million.

Park Avenue’s current enrollment is 902, significantly over its capacity of 728 students. In 2023, the projected student enrollment is still expected to be over capacity, at 892 students. Wiedersum suggested building an entire new wing to accommodate seven additional classrooms, as well as adding a separate gym and art room. Upgrades for this school would cost a litle under $14 million.

“It’s amazing that Dryden and Park operate at the level they do with the amount of students they have,” Wiedersum commented.

Drexel Avenue has 585 students enrolled and the population is expected to grow to 679 in 10 years. The building is meant to accommodate 469 students. The building needs six more classrooms, a gym and a larger lobby, which would cost $15.6 million. Like Drexel, Powells Lane has a student population of 585 which is expected to go up to 679 by 2023. The building can only accommodate 469 students with its 23 classrooms. Wiedersum suggested linking the two wings of the building and adding two classrooms and a gym which would cost $12.7 million.

The high school had the largest projected enrollment growth; currently there are 1,351 students but by 2023 it is expected to jump up to 2,259 students. The building can accommodate 1,194. Wiedersum suggested adding more classrooms, a gym, a larger cafeteria, outside storage facility, and upgrading the kitchen. The cost would run about $16.5 million.

All the district buildings would need upgrades to their boilers and controls, roofs, lighting, ceilings and basements. The total cost for all the improvements would be $105.5 million. If the district omitted basement repairs, the total cost would be $5.3 million cheaper.

The district could put a bond up to vote in November or December of this year, and construction would take four to five years to complete.

One of the biggest questions of the night was whether to repair the middle school or build an entirely new one. The building was constructed in 1924 and has undergone several renovations since then, the latest in 1996. The school can hold 1,340 students and currently has 1,066. However, by the year 2023, it is expected to hit that 1,340 student benchmark. The school needs new classrooms, an auditorium, lunchroom and additional locker space. The cost to make all the restorations to the school is $31.5 million; the cost to build a new one would be $84 million.

“Maybe it’s time to start new. We’re investing in millions of dollars worth of Band-Aids,” said trustee Leslie Davis. “What’s going to happen five years from now is that we’re going to be faced with this again. We need to be thinking smarter as a district, because I think we’re wasting our money.”

Superintendent Mary Lagnado said the district is continuing to try to combat any additional enrollment growth in the district that is due to illegal students with central registration and by working with the Town of North Hempstead and Village of Westbury.

“We can’t give names but we can give addresses and the amount of children coming out of that household. And it’s on them to investigate. ” Lagnado said. “We do cooperate and have an ongoing dialogue with them.”

The public voted down a $78 million bond in 2003, but approved a $25 million interest free bond later that year. Trustee John Simpkins noted that it was important to see whether there was an appetite in the community to build.

“Then, it was nice to have. Now it’s need to have. These projections are modest, we want to be conservative to present a reasonable picture to the public,” Simpkins said. “But the schools are bursting at the seams and we have to face this situation one way or the other.”

If the bond was not passed again this year, the school district might have to go into split sessions, with some students coming in the morning and the others coming in the afternoon.

“We can’t turn kids away because we have overcrowding, we’d have to go into split session,” said Lagnado. “We have to think of the future. But we hope to get some building aid and help from the state.”

Lagnado noted that with new buildings the district can go out 30 years for a bond issue. Board president Rodney Caines also noted that some line items could also be covered by an energy performance contract.

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