New options on the table for New Lebanon

p1-New-Lebanon-5-30Parents have been demanding action on New Lebanon School’s  issues with overcrowding for years and steps are finally underway.

The findings are in for a $25,000 pre-feasibility study, and the Board of Education reviewed it at its March 20 meeting. The pre-feasibility study was conducted to begin assessing possible courses of action to address New Lebanon’s packed classrooms, ranging from short-term solutions to a possible expansion of the school. KSQ Architects presented the study’s results last week to the board and to parents.

KSQ architect principal and national K-12 school planner Armand Quadrini envisioned building for the 2015-2016 school year and parents at the meeting were vocal that time was of the essence. As it stands now, projections for the 2014-2015 school year estimate that New Lebanon School will require 16 classrooms, though there are only 14 available in the current building.

The study used Glenville School as the benchmark comparison for size and instruction spaces, because it is the newest school in the district, and also went through the state aid process. But the results had some bad news because, as it stands, New Lebanon School falls far short of town standards across the board, from basic education space in its classrooms, to the gymnasium, cafeteria and media center.

“New Lebanon’s classrooms are all substandard in terms of floor area, with on average 720 square feet vs. 900 square feet classrooms at Glenville… So that’s the inequity in the demonstration of the type of need that this report tries to uncover,” Mr. Quadrini said.

Mr. Quadrini presented a series of existing floor plans, illustrations and charts that displayed the inadequacy of common core areas. The New Lebanon School gymnasium is less than half of the size of other schools’ in town. Currently, there is not a clear, open play area where students can do activities and still meet planning standard. The cafeterias and kitchen space amount to 1,250 square feet, compared to Glenville School’s 3,500 square feet. The library and media center amount to roughly half of the dimensions offered at Glenville.

The study also considered town planning and zoning requirements and estimated at minimum an eight- to nine-month process, or as much as 14 months, depending on involvement. There are additional hoops to be jumped through to meet the state’s 80% diversity mandate, which allows for 80% reimbursement of construction costs. There are seven required components that comprise this preliminary application, and as it stands, Mr. Quadrini is honest that the process is simply too premature to submit this year.

“There is a window in June annually when these submissions are made to the state. We think that this June would be too soon, next June 2015 is more feasible… At the end of the day we’d like to see this process completed within two years. It’s possible it may take three,” Mr. Quadrini said.

He then moved on to the core of the study, the various school expansion options. He outlined five building scenarios that he said would all mark an improvement on the nearly 31,000 (gross) square feet of New Lebanon School.

Option A would build a new classroom wing over the existing north classroom wing, effectively creating a new second floor. This plan would enhance certain aspects of the school, namely by getting the music, art, and media center up to the minimum size requirements. The north classroom wing would need to be vacated during construction, and 12 temporary classrooms would be used for two school years. Under this plan, classroom area requirements would be met, but other common spaces, such as the gymnasium would be left substandard. This plan amounts of 42,350 gross square feet, and would cost approximately $29.9 million.

Option B would demolish the north classroom wing and build a new two-story wing with a new level below. According to Mr. Quadrini, the ability to “reimagine that main level” would result in a “much more efficient floor plan” that would cluster the kindergartners. This plan would include a new elevator and stairwell on either end.

Option B would meet all classroom size requirements and would allow for the improvement of the gymnasium. However, some special instruction and common areas would still fail to have adequate space. Gross square footage would amount to 42,080 and cost a projected $33.2 million.

A slightly edited proposal, Option B-alt, would add an upper gymnasium and ultimately enable all secondary spaces to have their own proper classroom areas. Gross square footage totals to 43,760. The cost would be $34.7 million and construction of either Option B-alt and Option B would require using 12 temporary classrooms for two years, as would Option A.

Option C would demolish the entire existing New Lebanon School and reconstruct a brand new school in its place. Parking and core common spaces would be relocated to maximize efficiency, and classrooms would be positioned on the upper level of the school space. This plan would result in approximately 41,610 gross square feet, and cost $31.7 million. This option would meet all of the school’s programming needs and size standards, but its creation would require the relocation of all New Lebanon School students for roughly two years.

The final option, which appeared to be the favorite among the parents, is Option D. This would build a new school on the adjacent ballfield while maintaining existing school during construction. This plan also envisions the reconstruction of the new ballfield in the place of the current school. Gross square footage would amount to 40,610, with construction totaling $33.2 million. This plan would not require student relocation and all programming and size requirements would be met.

Mr. Quadrini emphasized that all cost projections were rough, preliminary estimates, created by unbiased independent cost estimator. Total project costs take into account all aspects of construction, from temporary modular classrooms, rock excavation, escalation, construction phasing, and built-in contingency.

“I hope that as we learn more about the school and more studies are completed, that these numbers will start to taper down,” said Mr. Quadrini.

He stressed that the pre-feasibility study was just the beginning, and that the subsequent study, slated for July 1, would take a much “deeper dive” that involves a skilled team of engineers.

“I think this report has been very good at identifying the needs and issues and the next areas of study, and that’s one of the takeaways that I hope you’ll have here,” Mr. Quadrini said.

The need for space at New Lebanon School is by no means a new development, but parents and board members were struck by the hard data comparisons and thanked KSQ Architects for their study, saying that it “dramatically highlighted the need for new facilities.”

“I’m in New Lebanon a lot,” Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said. “We see things and we know things aren’t as they should be. We now have very hard data on New Lebanon, how it compares to other schools in the district, and very importantly, to a benchmark that can be the standard as we move forward.”

Following the pre-feasibility presentation, school board members had the opportunity to ask questions, which largely centered around qualifications for the state 80% reimbursement. The current options cap the number of students at 293 and allow for the creation of just a single classroom, which raised concern among multiple members. Dr. McKersie underscored that the study was merely a starting point, from which it could be decided which questions needed better solutions and clearer answers.

“The sooner you can move as a board on that discussion, the better. The board now can say ‘Yes, let’s figure out those questions, let’s figure out what we need to work on,’” said Dr. McKersie.

Numerous parents in the audience threw their support behind Option D and stressed the importance of expediting the timeline and fast-tracking the process.

“The board should be anticipating the approval of the capital budget and be working now on planning these identified steps… we need as much time possible between now and the next budget drafting in the fall if we are to fas-track the long-term solution,” said a New Lebanon parent Clare Kilgallen.

BOE members made sure parents knew that it would not be the BOE delaying the process. Mr. Quadrini agreed, saying that it would not be the “folks in the room who are going to hold up the process” but that the time would go to the many stakeholders including the need for state approvals and locally from the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting.


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