The Niskayuna Central School District is set to hold its first remote meeting amid the coronavirus school closures Friday night, rescheduling a meeting to discuss a major overhaul of the district’s middle school program.
Board members will participate in the 6 p.m. meeting through remote videoconference and the public will be able to watch and listen by livestream, the district said in a Thursday release. There will be no in-person component to the meeting.
The meeting comes at a pivotal moment as the district works to keep moving forward with a major capital project – pegged to cost between $55 million and $70 million – even as the region and state are shaken by the profound changes brought on by the spread of COVID-19.
Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. in a statement announcing the new meeting time said the district has a “responsibility to keep moving forward” on the project, citing the many meetings, forums and opportunities to comment on the project that have already occurred.
That capital project aims to support major renovations, repairs and expansions across the district’s different school buildings to accommodate expected enrollment growth in the coming years. But district leaders are also using the planned overhaul as an opportunity to remake its middle school program, considering centralizing the middle grades in districtwide buildings – either a single 6-8 middle school or one 5-6 school and one 7-8 school for all students.
After a March 7 board workshop to discuss the capital project and different changes to the middle school program, the board had scheduled a meeting to consider their options again before a March 24 meeting where the board is expected to select one option to further detail with the district’s architects and put up to voters in December.
At the most recent school board meetings, board members have suggested a desire to adopt one of the two new middle school models, but they have continued to maintain the status quo – two 6-8 middle schools at Van Antwerp and Iroquois – as an option.
If the district shifted to a single 6-8 middle school, it would have to build a major addition at Iroquois; two accommodate a pair of 5-6 and 7-8 buildings, the district would either have to make major renovations at Van Antwerp – around $20 million – or add space to Hillside Elementary. Van Antwerp’s high cost of renovations and repairs has emerged as a challenging trade off for board members.
In the Thursday announcement, the district said a March decision was necessary to allow enough time for “all of the design, analysis and program planning work leading up to December.”
“The district’s capital project planning timeline has always been to put a proposal before voters in December 2020,” the district wrote.
The message noted “significant public engagement” in the form of community forums and online surveys over the winter and last summer. Board members and districts leaders have been discussing and planning for the capital project for well over a year.
“COVID-19 is an extraordinary and unprecedented situation, and has caused challenges and concerns in our community and across the world,” Tangorra said in the statement. “However, we have reached the point in the process where the (school board) deliberations are concluding. We have a responsibility to keep moving forward.”
The public can access a link to the livestream on the district’s website. The public will not be able to participate directly in the meeting, but members of the public can submit comments for the record by emailing [email protected].