After years of planning and months of pitching, voters in the Kingston City School District on Tuesday will get the final say on the proposed $137.5 million renovation plan for Kingston High School. An informal poll undertaken by the Kingston Times so far shows it could be a photo finish. (Check out the poll on this website for the latest tally.)
Superintendent Paul Padalino, school officials and the Board of Education have promoted the plan not only for its necessity in the present, but also the future. According to Padalino, working on the many issues in the almost 100-year-old Broadway campus a little bit at a time could prove more expensive in the long run.
“I think the [school board’s] Facilities Committee made the decision that we’ve kind of tried to tinker around the edges long enough, and it’s time to put this out as a complete package addressing all the issues,” Padalino said of the high school, some of which is nearly a century old. “We don’t want to put $50 million into the buildings this year and have to come back to the voters in a few years for another $20 million, and two years later for another $20 million, that sort of thing. Let’s address it now and have this building ready to serve our community for another 100 years.”
As for the cost, well, Padalino said it hasn’t been the primary focal point from attendees at the various presentations he’s held over the past few months.
“Surprisingly, the conversation has not been about money as much as I thought it would be,” Padalino said. “Most people have been asking whether this project would change the way we deliver education in the Kingston City School District at Kingston High School, and I think that’s a great conversation to be having.”
For years, school officials including Padalino’s predecessor, Gerard Gretzinger, and members of the Board of Education have considered numerous options for the aging facility, including various restoration plans and the construction of an entirely new high school in another part of the district. But the latest plan — unanimously approved by the Board of Education in a vote this past June — isn’t just about the building itself, said Padalino. It’s also about flexibility and a rapidly changing look at 21st-century education.
“One of the recommendations given to us several years ago when the building was under regents review, was that we look at small learning communities,” Padalino said. “This project will put us in a position to look at education differently. Smaller learning communities, whether they’re academies by theme or by grade — like we’re doing right now with the ninth-grade scholars’ academy — it give us the opportunity to have students, instead of being one of 2,200 students, they’re one of 400 students or 500 students. We don’t have the old departmental mode, and we have all the teachers working together and have interdisciplinary lessons on a much bigger scale than what we’re doing now.”
Kingston High School Principal Adrian Manuel said another benefit of the project would be the reconfiguration of the school to make easier the transition to the “house concept,” where the student body would be broken down into smaller “learning communities,” with the same teachers dealing with the same batch of kids on a day-to-day basis. Such an approach, added Padalino, has been proven to increase both student performance and graduation rates.
Significant infrastructural issues
A modern approach to education is just one facet of the plan, said Padalino. It’s also important to note that much of Kingston High School is simply falling apart.
“What we’ve been focusing on is that the building is going to be 100 years old in September 2015,” Padalino said. “Even though there have been renovations and additions, no real work has been done in that building for over 20 years. The building is not currently equipped to handle 21st century education, whether it be wiring, power in classrooms, and all the systems are beyond their serviceable life: Our heating system, our electrical system. It’s just old and antiquated. We’ve also been talking about the fact that we’re not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. We want to have a 21st century learning environment that is clean and safe for our staff.”
The major tentpoles of the plan include the demolition of the Myron J. Michael and Tobin/Whiston buildings, and a sizable addition on the Salzmann building.
As with most major building projects — especially those in public school districts where some work is done during summer when students aren’t around — the proposed renovation would unfold in stages. According to the district’s estimates, construction would run from spring 2015 through fall 2018, with Tobin/Whiston coming down in summer 2016 and the MJM building in summer 2018, the former coming in at around $1.4 million and the latter roughly $1.5 million.
The Salzmann building would see an addition of 181,400 square feet, with heavy renovation of 23,200 square feet of the existing building and medium renovation of 11,400 square feet. Add in roof replacement; gut renovation of bathrooms; and plumbing, HVAC, electrical and sprinkler systems, and the total estimate in Salzmann is $65,700,000.
With the project not anticipated to be completed until the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the first group of students who would see the plans come to fruition are still just midway through middle school.