Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas presented school board members with an updated version of his plan to renovate 38 schools over the next 11 years at a special meeting last night. Nine of the buildings are already in the first phase of construction of the $1.2 billion project, the largest of its kind in the city’s history.
The biggest change in the latest version of the plan is Vargas’s decision to renovate John Walton School 16 at 321 Post Avenue. Last year, Vargas closed the school due to major problems with the building. Students at School 16 were moved to the Freddie Thomas campus at 625 Scio Street, and School 16 has been vacant since. Vargas did not recommend re-opening the building; he wanted a new school in the southwest section of the city.
But the Post Avenue building will instead undergo more than $10 million in renovations and re-open as School 16 in the fall of 2015. Vargas said last night that his decision followed an aggressive lobbying campaign by 19th Ward residents and parents, who say that the school is a vital neighborhood asset.
Vargas’s plan still calls for closing School 30 at 36 Otis Street at the end of this year. School 54, currently housed in leased space, will be moved into the School 30 space.
School 36 at 85 St. Jacob Street will close at the end of the 2014 to 2015 school year.
School 10, housed at the Walter Cooper Academy, will merge with School 1 at 85 Hillside Avenue in the 2015 to 2016 school year.
School 25 will close in 2016, and students will be moved a renovated School 6, at 595 Upper Falls Boulevard.
School 37, at 353 Congress Avenue, will close in 2020.
School 22, at 27 Zimbrich Street, will move to either the Franklin Campus or to a newly constructed building in 2020.
The plan is based on a few assumptions: that the district can stop the flow of students to charter schools, and that the reimbursement from the state would be $.98 cents on every $1 spent on construction. But both assumptions are problematic and could spur changes to the plan down the road.
The reaction from board members last night was mostly positive. But some members are leery of closing School 10. Board member Willa Powell urged Vargas and the schools construction team to consider ways of holding on to the buildings in some parts of the city, since it is difficult to predict where the next generation of students will live.
The district has been through this before, Powell said, and buildings have been closed only to discover that space was needed a few years later.
Board member Mary Adams is especially concerned about the equitable distribution of resources. Why was School 16’s maintenance neglected for so long, she asked, but School 23 in the Park Avenue neighborhood is well-maintained in an area where demand is shrinking? And why is there a plan to close School 30, she asked, when it is located in the densest student-populated area of the city?
Approval of the school board isn't required for the project move forward.
The next phases of construction of the facilities modernization program will require approval and funding by the New York State Legislature.