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The conceptual re-design of Weber Middle School, presented at a recent BOE meeting, was further modified to reduce costs, the Spector Group architects reported at the Jan. 2 board of education meeting. Expecting to present this revised plan to the public in the next week or two, the architects sought to support the four-house structure of Weber, or the "schools-within-a-school" concept, and cut expenses by minimizing costly interior renovations and enlarging additions. While the Turner Construction group will be developing the final costs for the middle school, it seemed likely that it would be between $20 and $22 million, the architects said. The previous design, Turner determined, would have totaled $30 million. (This was one topic discussed at the Jan. 2 meeting; the others are covered in a separate article.)

Following the recent presentation of the middle school conceptual plan, the Superintendent Dr. Albert Inserra, Weber Principal Matt Sanzone, the architects, and others, held meetings to lower the costs while preserving the integrity of the design, which is devoted to supporting the educational program. Turner Construction suggested doing more additions, which would be cheaper than doing major interior renovations. Turner found that in the original plan, approximately 80 percent of the existing building was slated for renovation.

Thus, the Spector Group's representative explained to the school board members that the addition closest to Port Washington Blvd. was now slated to be enlarged. Moreover it will "mix special education with the rest of the school," they said. The revised plan will not really alter the lower level in the Flower Hill wing. The cafeteria, though, will be renovated and expanded into a nearby custodial area. The plan for the library as well as the removal of the storage area to relieve traffic congestion and permit traffic onto Bogart Avenue, have remained.

Classrooms will of course be added, but switching the location of home and careers and other rooms, a costly move, has been eliminated. The architects also saved some dollars by canceling the proposed renovation of attic space.

Though the project costs were cut, some members of the board of education were worried that it wasn't sufficient. School board member Dean Nardone expressed concern that adding this project to the high school renovation, which was budgeted last year by the District's former architectural firm at approximately $20 million, plus elementary school renovations, would end up with a total that would far exceed the under-$50 million bond they sought. (The Spector Group is planning to present their numbers for the high school renovations shortly.) "We are not even close ... and we are running out of time," said Nardone, referring to the growing student population, especially for September, 2001. Moreover, construction costs are rising. Later, he asked the architects to review last year's work on two middle schools, wondering if that plan might be more economical.

Board member Alan Baer said, "no one wants to say this ... (that) we have a first class educational system, and it is increasing by 1,000 students. You have to pay the price!" Quality costs, was his point, and he was applauded by the small audience after making his remarks. He also inquired about two bonds. The first, in March, would seeking funding for the portables only, which are needed by September. But the State Education Department will see this as part of a long-term plan, it was explained.

Board member Peter Wezenaar wondered if the school board might take the $50 million figure, and assign a "budget" or dollar amount for each school. "Set an amount," he proposed, "and see what we can do, for that amount." A high bond, he felt, will not pass.

Saying the middle school plan was now "skin and bones," the Spector representative commented that there's hope that the elementary schools might not cost as much as believed. Dr. Inserra preferred getting the actual numbers for the high school and middle school before contemplating other ideas. Still, "the board is on a very tight schedule to keep to the bond referendum timetable," he said.

Because the hour was so late, the school board tabled the District Plan on Special Education presentation. It was rescheduled for Jan. 16, at 7 p.m.

Turning to other matters, it was reported that Sousa Elementary school's intercom system failed to work recently. Similar occurrences have taken place in other PW schools, it was stated. District administrators are aware of it; more than $30,000 has been spent repairing the systems, but "they are antiquated," said the Superintendent. Each principal has a cellular phone, but reliable communication systems between teachers and the office are needed. Estimates for intercom systems are expected shortly, it was reported. BOE President Richard Sussman also indicated that the wiring for intercom systems is in place. The problem will be examined further.

At the meeting's opening, parent Larry Greenstein commented that regarding facilities, "getting the plan done right is more important than setting an arbitrary number of dollars." Parent Ellen Fox asked the board members to consider what the facilities plan would require to have the backing of the entire board. "Is it your objective to give kids an educational program, to stick with a number?" she asked. "Think of what's most important."

To help solve the communications problem, one resident suggested investigating a wireless intercom, that one wears on one's hip, and is connected to the Internet. A wireless radio, which has an earpiece worn by the teacher, might also be considered, he said. Parent Marci Zak said she supported Dean Nardone's idea, and thought it worthwhile to re-examine the idea of two middle schools.


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