Niskayuna school officials are setting out to remake their eight school buildings and also how they use those buildings in a capital project that will likely go to voters in the fall of 2020.
The project will address lingering infrastructure needs spelled out in the district’s 2015 building condition survey -- which outlined $38 million worth of structural components nearing the end of their useful life across the district -- as well as accommodate projected enrollment growth.
But officials hope the project will also serve as a launching pad for the district to re-envision how it teaches students, moving toward more collaborative, flexible and hands-on spaces for teachers and students. As the district starts to hash out plans for the project, administrators and the school board will also consider new ways of configuring the district’s schools and grade levels. The district may consider shifting sixth grade to elementary schools, for example, or divide primary schools into smaller groupings of grades.
“This has to be so much more than a capital project,” Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said Tuesday as administrators and board members met with consultant Paul Seversky, who will be guiding a community steering committee that will offer input as plans continue to develop. “We will transform, hopefully, the buildings to adopt to a new way of learning for students.”
Tangorra characterized the overall project as “big” but said it was too early to put a price tag on what district voters will ultimately be asked to support. He said Seversky and the community committee will eventually present various options to the school board that would include grade-level configurations and different project price tags.
Voters in December 2016 approved a $5.6 million capital project focused on the district’s most immediate structural needs, such as a roof replacement at Van Antwerp Middle School. But the next project will go much further.
The district has invited community members to volunteer for the steering committee, which will begin its work in September. The group, intended to serve as a microcosm of the broader community, will consist of around 40 people, Seversky said. Tangorra said he has already received responses from around 50 interested people.
But before the community steering committee can start meeting, Seversky tasked the district officials and the school board with clearly outlining their vision of education in the district in the coming years. Moving toward an articulation of that vision, administrators on Tuesday started to outline a new approach to education in Niskayuna that would emphasize working across disciplines, ramp up the district’s offerings in career and technical programs, provide teachers greater flexibility to combine classes or work in small groups, and continue to infuse technology into classrooms.
“The buildings have to be nimble,” Tangorra said. “They’re not now; we can’t adjust to the changes that are coming at us given the way the buildings are laid out.”
As the district considers how to remake its buildings and the education that happens inside them, they will also have to plan for teaching more students. In work he has already done for the district, Seversky projected enrollment in Niskayuna will grow over the next decade -- with increases ranging from a low of 150 new students over 10 years to as many 1,000 new students in the next decade.
While construction of a new building does not appear to be on the table, Seversky suggested it was likely the district would need to make additions to existing buildings, especially if educational changes further limit how much space is available within a building’s current footprint.
“Don’t forget we still have to serve all these children who are here or are coming,” Seversky said.