In one way or another, the Schenectady City School District will be able to use Oneida Middle School by September 2016.
The Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night to declare itself the lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act in order to go forward with renovations to the vacant school, which was closed last year to save money. The move allows the district — if it chooses — to reopen the school in just more than three years.
“If we had options that did not require us to do significant renovations somewhere, we would be presenting those options,” said district Superintendent Laurence Spring. “You know, if there was a way to do this without asking the taxpayers to come out and vote on a referendum, I’d love to do it. But given the options we have, it seems rehabbing Oneida to a place where we could put students back into it is the most attractive of several options.”
Under which configuration the school opens is another question, one the board spent two hours debating Wednesday night.
Lori McKenna, the district’s director of planning and accountability, prepared a study that gave the board six long-term options to reconfigure grades and make the best use of the district’s aging facilities. After about two hours of nuanced debate and, more simply, the process of elimination, the board decided on a single option to pursue further — the reconfiguration of its elementary schools to a K-5 model and middle schools to a 6-8 model.
The plan would eliminate the district’s current hybrid middle school configuration, creating three-year middle schools. By bringing all of its sixth grades into the middle school configuration, the district would also align itself with Common Core Learning Standards — a move it predicted some elementary-school parents might view negatively.
The board’s strongest argument for the plan was that it standardizes grade configurations for all elementary- and middle-school students, allowing every middle-school student to be able to take programs that were once only offered to some.
“This seems to be the option that some of our neighboring districts have in place,” said board President Catherine Lewis.
It would also allow the district to run out two leases and close Elmer Elementary School, which has drainage problems so severe that a recently unveiled two-year study deemed it unable to be saved.
The district would be able to move ahead with this option almost immediately after Oneida receives some light renovation, some of which can still occur with students occupying the building.
Redistricting would have to occur, meaning the plan would be difficult to unwind. But the board acknowledged redistricting was going to have to happen eventually.
The plan would allow for a potential capacity of 5,190 students enrolled in elementary school and 2,330 students enrolled in middle school.
Spring reminded board members they weren’t deciding on any concrete configuration plan yet. Oneida would have to be renovated under any of the six options laid out by McKenna, and approving the resolution at this time simply allows those renovations to move forward at a timely pace, he said.
“We’re kind of ringing the bell to start the SEQR process, but we have some time to chew on this,” he said. “In July, I would ask the board to consider which option it wants, because we don’t want to delay it too long.”