Five Schenectady elementary schools would see major renovations if voters approved an over-$54 million capital project in May.
The schools, identified as those most in need of changes to improve day-to-day operations and academic achievement, would receive the bulk of the improvements, while other elementary schools would have their most-immediate infrastructure needs addressed.
The project – which Superintendent Larry Spring estimated will cost between $54 million and $60 million – comes as the district nears completion of a $70 million project focused on the city’s three middle schools. Over 80 percent of the work on that project has been completed.
This second phase of a long-range construction plan would turn attention to elementary schools, making repairs or replacing critical infrastructure in at least nine of the districts schools. But the majority of the work would be focused at five elementary schools: Hamilton, Martin Luther King, Pleasant Valley, Woodlawn and Yates.
Along with the infrastructure upgrades, the basic organizational layout and classroom design of those schools would be improved. Under plans presented to the school board Wednesday night, classrooms will be better organized and grouped by grade level; hallways will be extended; secure entranceways will be established; and classroom spaces will be updated to improve layout, appearance and acoustics.
“We have a lot of spaces that we just make do with,” Spring said, citing examples of students and teachers working in old locker rooms still covered in tile and poorly lighted. “We have repurposed a lot of spaces without actually redesigning them.”
The schools will be designed to have a “public zone,” where administrative offices, nurses’ offices, auditoriums and gyms can be accessed without people walking through the standard academic areas. Zoning the public spaces in that way, the district’s architects said, adds an extra layer of security.
The plans, which spell out more work than will be completed in the proposed project, also call for establishing community and sensory rooms at the elementary schools. Community rooms are spaces that family members can use to access computer, make phone calls or meet school staff; sensory rooms are calm spaces used to teach kids skills to handle stress.
The majority of the work will happen inside the walls and ceilings of the schools. Only about one-third of the project involves changes to classrooms and hallways, the bulk of it is improving or replacing heating and cooling, electrical and other critical systems.
“The systems in the building we know are on their last legs need to be replaced,” said Michael Fanning, an architect with Mosaic Associates. “We doubt we can do all of the improvements we want to in the first round.”
Later this month, the school board will hear another presentation on the project, which will detail the project finances and timeline. The board is expected to vote on the project in time to put it up for voter approval alongside the proposed 2017-2018 school budget in May.
Spring also warned that the plans presented to the board include more changes to the schools than will be achievable in the proposed project. A third project and fourth project are also planned over the longer term, which would make improvements to the high school and other elementary schools.
“The plans have twice as much stuff designed as we will be able to afford,” Spring said. “This is all the stuff we want to do, but we know we have to pare back quite a bit. It doesn’t mean some of this stuff won’t get done; it means some of this stuff won’t get done yet.”