Wednesday, January 27, 2016

RCSD prepares for phase two of massive buildings overhaul

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Four city schools – School 7, East High, Monroe High, and School 16 — are the Rochester school district's “highest needs” buildings, according to the group leading a massive overhaul of city schools. And they would receive the most attention in the second phase of the $1.2 billion facilities modernization program. The huge construction project, which is a joint endeavor between the Rochester school district and the city, has had ups and downs since its inception several years ago, including a power struggle between the district and the mayor.
click to enlarge East High School is slated for renovations. - FILE PHOTO
  • East High School is slated for renovations.

At a meeting on Tuesday, district officials gave an update on the project and solicited public input, a requirement of the FMP legislation. Few parents attended the meeting, and as expected with a project of this size and scale, some are pleased with the progress and others are not.

Another meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 2, at East High School.

The $325 million first phase involved 11 buildings and a district-wide technology upgrade. Between 80 and 85 percent of that work is done; work is still under way at School 12 and Monroe High School.

But going forward, school officials say that they want the State Education Department to adjust what is referred to as the Maximum Cost Allowance: what the SED agrees to reimburse the district.

In the project's first phase, the highest potential reimbursement was about 98 cents on the dollar with the most going to work that had the greatest impact on students and classrooms. District officials want the state to essentially make the reimbursement more flexible. 

The formula has created problems, officials say, because it exacerbates the challenges of doing a thorough job, adds costs and disruption for students while work is being done in their school, and encourages a piecemeal approach to building renovations.

Though no one talked about cost overruns, a change in direction led by former superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard meant that funds for phase one didn’t go as far as expected. Brizard asked for the conversion of some schools from K-6 buildings to K-8 buildings. Some teachers, parents, and neighborhood residents disapproved of the changes, and former superintendent Bolgen Vargas didn't like the idea, either. 

Work at the East High campus, officials say, will renovate the inside of the building to accommodate the reconfiguration of that school – an element of the University of Rochester’s plan for turning student performance around. East High was part of phase one and will be part of phase two, too; most of the phase-one work took place on the outside of the school. School officials said last night that if there is a lesson learned from phase one, it is not trying to fit square pegs in round holes, meaning that it is costly and time-consuming to reconfigure a building that wasn’t designed to hold more students. But it's too late to change direction on East now, they say. 

School officials say that FMP will most likely include a third construction phase. But declining student enrollment and pressure from the SED to improve the district's lowest performing schools is making it difficult to say which schools will make that future list. For instance, work on Charlotte High School was completed in the first phase, but now that school is scheduled to close in about two years.

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