It took many months for residents and parents in the 19th Ward to convince Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to save School No. 16 — the school is closed until renovations can be done. And they got Vargas to include No. 16 in the second phase of the district's massive $1.2 billion school building modernization plan. (Vargas has promised to reopen the school in 2018.)
But the high cost of renovating the school — the reason that Vargas initially wanted to close No. 16 — has again become a concern. SWBR Architects recently presented the board with several renovation options, ranging from $20 million to $29 million.
Those estimates are lower than what the district has spent to renovate other schools, but the problem is that the State Education Department will only reimburse the district for about $12 million of the work. And this is while the district is staring at a $40.5 million budget gap.
Rochester school member Willa Powell says that concerns about the renovation costs are legitimate. But Vargas and the board have to find the money, she says, because a commitment was made to the community to keep School 16 open.
“The board’s answer is to find a way to do it so we have a neighborhood school in that area,” she says. “Are we prepared to make the same mistake we’ve made before by leaving a neighborhood without a school? No.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation authorizing the $425 million second phase of the schools modernization program. More than two-dozen schools are included in this phase.