The parents at the second community meeting on the closure
of Congers Elementary School learned that the building could be shuttered for a
year or more.
A larger crowd showed up for the Tuesday meeting than for the first session held on Friday. Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton told them the three-story tall back wall declared structurally unsound would have to be removed and replaced if the school was to reopen. District officials emphasized no decisions have been made about the school’s future, that they are in the early stages of information gathering and their focus has been on the logistics of shifting about 300 students to new schools on September 9th.
Assistant Superintendent John LaNave said the structural engineering report that led to the district’s decision to close the school last week is available on the district’s website.
The report by consultant structural engineer Ryan Biggs stated, “The gym area and the exterior area south of the wall should not be occupied. Although there are no indications that the wall is in imminent danger of collapse, high wind loads cannot be safely resisted by the wall. The potential collapse of the wall during high winds could block emergency exits, resulting in an unsafe occupancy of the school.”
LaNave said the extent of work necessary to rehabilitate the building and replace the unstable back wall had to be determined and those recommendations would be presented at a Clarkstown Board of Education meeting for public input and board discussing. He said preparation of that information could take several months and would then be followed by a bidding process.
“The best you could hope for was that construction would start in the spring,” he said.
LaNave and Congers Principal Martha Ryan spoke about their tour of the former St. Augustine’s School in New City as an option to place all the Congers students in one building instead of sending them to three different schools. They said the school was in “move-in” condition and had enough regular classrooms but was limited in space for specials such as art and music and its gym doubles as the cafeteria and auditorium. LaNave said he had spoken with the head of real estate for the New York Archdiocese and was hoping to get more specifics about possibly renting the building.
Ryan and LaNave will visit the former St. Ann’s School in Nyack this afternoon. It has more classrooms but they did not have additional details about the building, which is also owned by the Archdiocese.
Vicki Giannetti said the district is not likely to find a location with exactly everything that is wanted. She asked how long negotiations would take and urged administrators to move as quickly as possible before the students got completely settled in at the Laurel Plains, New City and Lakewood elementary schools.
Dr. Morton said the school board would discuss the relocation choices at their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12 and the community could ask questions.
“We will continue to look until we find a place or all those options are exhausted,” said Dr. Morton.
Laurie Santulli started an online petition to reopen the school that had more than 1,050 signatures by Tuesday night. She asked if the board decide not to repair the school would it be sold? Dr. Morton said the district does not have any plans to sell buildings.
Other updates provided for parents include a decision to keep the kindergarteners and first graders who are being relocated on an early schedule. All the Congers students will have the same schedule. Buses for the students are scheduled to arrive one behind the other with their destinations clearly posted. New bus schedules will be delivered to each student’s home today along with a flyer along with contact information for the child’s new school.
Parents criticized the lack of building maintenance that led to the deterioration of the wall along with problems at other schools. They spoke about rumors that the school would be permanently closed. One asked if the cost of leasing would leave enough money for repairs.
That led to a brief explanation of how the district’s reserves are shrinking because money is being used to pay for the property tax settlement with the Palisades Center and close the budget gap between expenses and revenues. Dr. Morton said the school board is looking at class sizes, the amount of high school courses offered, number of schools and ways of dealing with anticipated future budget deficits and staying within the two percent tax cap.
Board members Mike Aglialoro, Bob Carlucci, Chris Conti and Joe Malgieri, State Senator David Carlucci, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack and Clarkstown Town Clerk Justin Sweet attended the two- and a-half-hour-long meeting.
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