After years of deliberation and months of reviewing a specific set of plans, the Eastchester Board of Education voted Tuesday night to bring a bond for just under $12.8 million to a public vote in October, which would go to fund an expansion project at the Eastchester Middle School.
Both the Eastchester Middle School and High School have been experiencing overcrowding in the last couple of years, a problem teachers, administrators and Board members alike say will only get worse with time if no action is taken. As they stand today, the two school buildings are 288 students above capacity, a number administrators say could rise to over 450 in 8 to ten years.
At the Middle School, lunch periods have already been cut down from 40 to 20 minutes because of issues related to overcrowding. Board members stressed that the expansion projects proposed would serve to accommodate students that are already in the system, not incoming students.
There was the possibility Tuesday of the Board deciding to bring a $26 million bond to a public vote this fall – which would fund expansion projects at the Middle School and High School – however it was ultimately decided that the smartest decision in terms of what the public would approve was to begin with the Middle School project by itself. The proposal to bring the $12.8 million bond to the public was approved by 8 votes to 0 by the Board.
The bond to be put to a public vote on October 12 would fund an addition around the back of the main building of the Middle School, as well as to its cafeteria. It would add 14 classrooms, an elevator, and include considerable renovations inside the current building.
President of KG & D Architects Russell Davidson was once again present at Tuesday’s meeting, and gave a brief presentation in front of Board members and members of the public in attendance.
Each Board member spoke about their decision to leave off the High School project from the bond that will be voted on this fall Tuesday, urging members of the public to realize that expansion in the High School building is equally as necessary and will need to occur in the future. Tuesday’s regular meeting comes only a week after the Board and members of the public received an emotional presentation by High School Principal Dr. Jeffrey Capuano at a Board Work Session, during which he warned that overcrowding was threatening to cause serious negative impacts to the school curriculum and academic program.
Board members stressed that they are taking a “realistic eye” in proposing the bond necessary for the Middle School expansion, and throughout Tuesday’s meeting called the project in place “barebones” and coming with strictly “no luxuries or bells and whistles.”
A number of Board members expressed hope that the Middle School expansion project would be a “first phase” in addressing the overcrowding issue faced by the district as a whole, and stressed that it was the Board’s responsibility to attempt to move forward in the process, even if many of them believed the “right choice” was doing both expansion projects at the same time.
Upon request by one of the Board members, it was stated that the total cost per unit for the proposed $12.8 million bond would be approximately $130 per year for 20 years, or $11 a month.
For Eastchester resident Marc Kutzin, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the October bond would pass, that $11 a month represents a small cost to pay for something he believes absolutely needs to be done.
“I think it’s desperately needed,” said Kutzin, who has lived in Eastchester since 1990. “I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t been able to pass [a bond] in the past. Now it’s undeniable that they are overcrowded. Personally, I would support the whole thing, but I can certainly understand that $26 million sounds like a lot. I know it’s a tough time, but considering what it will do for our community, I am certainly hopeful that people will support it.”
Not all in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the proposed bond, however, including Eastchester resident Martha Watson, who among other things did not approve of the Board deicing on the matter “when most people are not around.”
“I acknowledge that they probably need more classrooms,” Watson said. “But I just feel like they are doing another fast one. I suspect that they are asking for a Cadillac when maybe they should be looking at a Chevrolet. I’m probably going to vote no, because I don't like how they have spent our money in the past and I don't have enough information to determine if they are spending our money correctly on this go round.”