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In an extra work session scheduled the previous night, the Board of Education (BOE) met to discuss details of the high school building plan, and to try to further reduce the five remaining facilities options, which concern grades K-8. On both issues the school board made some headway. They agreed to ask the architect to alter the original h.s. plan by eliminating costly relocations of the library media center and other centers but still adding the classrooms needed. Secondly, they voted to eliminate option 1 from further consideration. Option 1 called for continuing the current configuration of K-5 in four elementary schools, and one 6-8 middle school; it did not utilize the Salem school. There are now four remaining options; all include reopening Salem.

The Board debates adding 18 or 24 h.s. classrooms

The school board first discussed the need for general classrooms at the high school. Such versatile rooms are greatly needed, the board members seemed to agree, but they were split on whether all of the recommended number of rooms should be constructed, or whether some could be deferred for a later time. Currently, there are 34 general classrooms. The previous facilities plan recommended adding another 24, given the projections for increased enrollment. Some board members, like BOE president Richard Sussman, favored reducing the number to 18, which would serve a high school population of 1600. He felt they could reserve space should additional classrooms be needed. If enrollment did reach 1700, the additional six classrooms would be necessary. The same would hold true for the science area; it could be reduced by one laboratory, but if enrollment jumped, as predicted, it would have to be added. By delaying some of the construction, a lower bond could be presented to the public.

Still, high school principal Dr. Sid Barish made a compelling case for adding the full 24. "It would be shortsighted [to build just 18]. We'd be left with a renovation that almost from the outset, is insufficient," he said. "The original plan submitted for the high school was never an extravagant plan," Dr. Barish added. The principal explained that the need for additional rooms is so urgent that they are currently unable to place students in classes because there are no rooms available at that time of day. For some students, it means being closed out of courses because the school has no ability to create another section of a class. As for the art program, "we didn't even allow for growth...we allowed for just maintaining the number of students," he added. Right now, "we've got a class of 20 in a room with only 16 chairs." Thus, "My strong suggestion is we'll need those five or six [beyond 18] additional classrooms; it is inevitable, just a matter of time," he concluded.

Much of the planning depends on enrollment projections; school board members Dean Nardone and Alan Baer, for example, envision a rise in the student population with no sign of abatement while Mr. Sussman was unsure that this was going to be the pattern. But others, like Mr. Baer and Dr. Barish, pointed out that by the time the need was recognized, the rooms couldn't possibly be ready for the high school students to use. "If in 2005, there are 1700 students in the high school [and we are without those six classrooms] we will be in far worse shape than we are today," Dr. Barish maintained. New regulations, like this year's academic intervention services, will also require space.

Discussing the Common Sense Plan

"The Common Sense Plan purports to have the same classrooms for less money," suggested BOE member Peter Wezenaar. "So let's have a presentation on how to do this." BOE member John Zimmerman began to do so, making reference to a handout that he said appears on Portschools.com. Stating, "we aren't going to say ours is complete," Mr. Zimmerman explained that in the original plan, "it seemed like a lot of things on the right side of the building were moved to the left, and vice versa," and added that if we did not do such switching, we might save money. Acknowledging that his plan might be "five to eight classrooms off," and certain items, like the auxiliary gym, were not included in the Common Sense Plan, he said his interior renovation figure was smaller because "we kept the media center where it was." But Mr. Baer quickly pointed out that he hadn't accounted for all the music students, the gym, and other programs. "I'm already at $10 million," said Mr. Baer, "and very quickly, I'm going to be at 16 or 17 million," pointing out a discrepancy between these numbers and a statement made earlier by Mr. Zimmerman that he'd like the high school costs to "be at $9 million." "It may become $21 million vs. $16," said Mr. Baer. "And then we need to get it down to 9 or 10," answered Mr. Zimmerman.

Dr. Albert Inserra, Superintendent of Schools, offered a unifying impression: while all essentially agreed about the need, it did appear that exchanging spaces was driving the costs upward. Defining what was needed and accomplishing it without the major shifts within the building might just be what an architect could do, and help reduce costs in the process, he suggested. After a lengthy discussion, the BOE voted to have the architect submit a proposal, in which he would review the original plan, and add the needed capacity, without the costly space exchanges included originally.

Narrowing the K-8 Options: Reopening Salem Now Likely

BOE VP Bob Ferro crystallized two issues key to further eliminating facilities options. He stated that one key decision for the BOE was whether or not to reopen Salem school; the second was whether or not to have a 1200-student middle school. Though Mr. Sussman argued that he wanted to see the actual costs before making a decision, a majority of the school board pressed him and voted to remove option one, which called for four K-5 elementary schools and one 6-8 middle school. It did not include reopening Salem, an aspect which all four remaining options do offer.

Community Comments

One community member exhorted the BOE, "Please don't ask us, as parents, to go back to our schools and try to sell plans that are already short-sighted, and based more on cost than on educational programs. To hear a principal tell you that you will run into problems if you cut classrooms, and hear that you may still do so, is unconscionable." Others criticized the BOE for saying they wanted community input, but not informing the public about meetings or their content.


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