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A Closer Look at Garden City’s 2009 School Investment Bond

(Editor’s Note: This begins a series of focused articles examining the proposed bond work at each of the district’s nine buildings. It has been submitted by the Garden City School District.)

The Primary Schools – Hemlock, Homestead and Locust

On Oct. 27, the Garden City community will be asked to vote on a school investment bond to address substantial needs throughout the district. Each of the district’s nine buildings will be impacted by the bond proposal. The cost of the proposed bond is $36.5 million, which includes renovation costs to meet present day health and safety code requirements, as well as to reclaim and add learning space for academic program growth. The total amount of the projects will be partially offset by the use of $1.3 million in capital funds and an estimated $1.35 million in New York State EXCEL aid (the district must spend the money before being reimbursed by the state).

The comprehensive bond proposal, which addresses only the district’s most pressing needs, has been reviewed, revised and recommended by a Facilities Committee that included community members who have worked tirelessly during the past two years to put forth the most conservative and cost-effective plan. If approved, at its peak in 2014-2015, the bond will cost the average assessed homeowner 71 cents per day.

Historically, Garden City Public Schools has asked the community for two previous building improvement bonds, one in the 1960s and one in the late 1990s, far less frequently than neighboring school districts, many of which float capital improvement bonds every 10-15 years. For example, BBS Architects and Engineers, the company authorized by the board of education to prepare a comprehensive facilities report, has completed bond projects in the past 10 years in Manhasset ($21.5 million), Franklin Square ($14.4 million), Oyster Bay-East Norwich ($7 million; $14.5 million), Port Washington ($15 million; $.6 million; $30 million - pending), North Shore ($10 million) and Carle Place ($10.9 million) school districts.

Garden City has maintained its buildings utilizing annual capital funds, however the scope of the proposed projects far exceeds the district’s annual capital fund allocation. The high school roof alone, an item not included in the 1999 bond, is more than double the district’s annual capital fund allocation.

The three kindergarten and first grade neighborhood schools – Hemlock, Homestead and Locust – are the newest buildings in the district, built in 1959. The bond would ensure that these schools would see renovations and grounds work to eliminate chronic flooding problems that have caused widespread sill deterioration and related problems. Instructional spaces would be brought up to heating and ventilation and construction material codes, heavy exterior doors that no longer close properly would be replaced with doors that meet today’s safety standards and energy savings would be realized with the replacement of inefficient, single pane windows throughout the buildings. Each building’s communications system also would be modernized. Homestead, the primary school with projected enrollment increases, would have an addition added to its physical plant to address the spatial and programmatic needs of its present and anticipated student population.

How will the bond impact the primary buildings? The building principals, the educational leaders who live with the facilities’ issues every day, responded: “The single pane windows impact the health and safety of our students in several ways,” Hemlock Principal Audrey Bellovin said. “The temperature in the building is difficult to regulate and balance. We have children in short sleeves in one part of the building and sweatshirts in another. Parents don’t know how to dress their children.

“In inclement weather, the mud collects against the building and then gets tracked inside. Dirt on the floor can increase the number of slips in the hallway,” Principal Bellovin continued. “The replacement of the courtyard hall radiators will be a tremendous help to the air quality of the building. The way these are constructed makes it difficult to get inside and clean them thoroughly.

“Additionally, last year, we had a child with a broken leg in a wheelchair. We had to choose a different exit to evacuate the student during fire drills because the closest exit was not wheelchair accessible.”

At Homestead, Principal Dr. Suzanne Viscovich explained that “while teachers are skilled at delivering quality instruction, present facilities are unable to fully accommodate our needs and safety concerns are an issue. The library at Homestead is currently shared between library and music on alternating days. The multipurpose room is shared by students in physical education and art on the same day. The classes are separated merely by a curtain and physical education activities can spill into the curtained area, posing a safety hazard. The teachers’ and students’ voices in one special class compete with those on the other side of the curtain, compromising learning in both.

“Offices were created inside three kindergarten classrooms to accommodate support services, including Resource Room, Developmental Skills and Speech. Group transitions and voice levels can disrupt the instruction in these kindergarten classrooms. The support rooms are small, not constructed with materials up to today’s codes, can only fit one table with chairs, and are difficult to heat and ventilate.

“Since 2004, there has been no space allocated for occupational therapy or physical therapy. When there are no other spaces available, these services may take place in the hallways of Homestead School.”

Principal Jean Ricotta at Locust School acknowledges that her school and its children “would benefit from the projects in the school investment bond in several ways. There are exterior doors that do not have adequate landings. This could cause children to trip if they are moving quickly in an emergency situation.

“Our biggest difficulty occurs when there is heavy rain because water enters the back of the building. The grade is pitched toward the school, resulting in wet classroom rugs and materials ruined by the water. The grade in the front courtyard also needs to be reduced because water enters the school and has caused the windowsills to deteriorate.

“Many of the windows at Locust are single pane and the exterior doors, whose hydraulic safety closing features leak and/or no longer work properly, are original wood and need to be replaced. The windows are not all clear, some have a ‘cloudy appearance’ or are colored glass.

“The issues addressed by the proposed bond construction are priority items for our students.”

Garden City Board of Education members, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen and Assistant Superintendent Al Chase have attended back-to-school nights to address questions parents might have about the bond proposal. “This cost-effective, conservative plan is directed toward addressing safety issues and meeting laws, regulations and code requirements,” Dr. Feirsen said. “These items must be addressed. And we will realize the best return on our investment by doing them now while rates are low and construction firms are eager for work.” 

To give the Garden City community the opportunity to see the issues the schools are facing, individual building tours are being conducted (Saturday, Sept. 26 tour took place at 9:30 a.m. for Primary Schools and at 11 a.m. for Stratford). The remaining tours are as follows: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 9:30 a.m. – Middle School; at 11:30 a.m. High School and on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 9:30 a.m. – Stewart.

To serve the community, the board of education arranged for a Town Hall meeting for all POAs on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at Garden City High School. This Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m., the Garden City PTA will host a meeting with school district officials to discuss the bond.

Additionally, a newsletter is being sent to homes outlining the proposed work. Bond information, a video outlining health and safety issues and updates about the bond proposal can be accessed on the bond referendum page of the district website:

“To uphold our tradition of excellence, we must provide our students with a 21st century learning environment,” Board of Education President Colleen E. Foley said. “We want to maintain small class size, grow our academic programs, provide our students with broader experiences and compete with other school districts on Long Island and throughout the country.”