What’s it gonna be, Kingston? Yes or no?

Photo by Phyllis McCabe.

Photo by Phyllis McCabe.

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.”

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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.

There are 7 comments

  1. John Mallen

    I don’t know if I am like many others, but I have questions that I would like to have answered. My questions are not about the need for a better facility.

    On the facility side, I feel the public and taxpayers have been let down by leaders behind the enormous cost overruns with the Ulster County Jail and the failure of the hospital merger – all the effort and cost toward combining Kingston and Benedictine only to see the idea fizzle. What assurances or steps have been taken to guard against cost overruns or concept failure — going to all these efforts only to find out that the new and improved architecture doesn’t work or we don’t have enough students to fill the new facility?

    My second question does concern education – not the delivery but the outcomes. I want to know how this will support better high-school retention, better learning, more advantages to the underprivileged and not only the high achievers.

    The answers may have been put forth earlier and I could well have missed them.

  2. questions

    “The current main entrance facing Broadway would be used for ceremonial purposes only”. In other words, closed most of the time. A parent new to the area, walking up the hill to register their child, might see a sign, “Go around the corner.”

    I went to settle a bill at Kingston Hospital for a family member and walked around for 15 minutes to find the entrance.

    Very strange, two buildings so close, where the front is the back and the back is the front.

    Other cities welcome you with open arms-we turn our back to you! Kingston, the city of faux fronts.

  3. Tiger Mom

    This project is not only vital for our KHS students, but for the city of Kingston as well. Who wants to move here, or start a business here, with the high school in the deplorable shape its in? And as for the answers to the questions of how it will improve education, first off, improve any environment and kids will do better. Right now, there are cockroaches, crumbling ceilings, mold and unsafe conditions. There has already been tremendous improvement in attendance and retention with the 8th grade academy under Mr. Manuel. Go to a Board, PTA, or one of the many recent informational meetings, and check out http://www.khsproject.com. We should spend money (less than $20 per month, per household) on our kids instead of building expensive prisons. – A concerned parent and taxpayer.

    1. John Mallen

      Your comments make a lot of sense. No one wants a deplorable structure,and no one wants to see us invest in the education of our children, our most important assets, more than me. I certainly hope that the improvements under the new superintendnent will continue and parallel the improvements in the infrastructure. I also hope that the political leaders and their associates don’t drive the project budget into the stratosphere or leave us with a poorly executed mess. Maybe we need to figure out a way to keep a taxpayers’ eye on the process?

    2. questions

      For the record, prisons are being closed down, not being built. Also, my comment about the unused front doors (I forgot to add the Carnegie Library building) leads to decreased foot traffic on Broadway. Less traffic has to affect businesses. It also gives an empty feeling to the area.

      I’m glad that there are educational improvements, but I’m suspicious of the high school projected enrollment number-a 500 student range is very large-especially when schools in the area have been closed.

      I’m also suspicious of the “show and tell” that’s been going on. The taxpayers are being shown a finished product. Why not have community, staff and student input? Also, why did the district hire a Public Relations person? And we all have to turn out at a special election(at added expense, I bet), well, it’s just doesn’t sit right.

      I also have serious concerns about the lead and asbestos abatement and making sure that all workers are being paid prevailing or union wages. Health and safety of students, staff, community and employees is most important.

      Finally, last year the Superintendent discouraged students from opting out of the excessive testing. This year, many progressive Superintendents in N.Y. are protesting these tests and the giving of student’s personal information to a private company (InBloom). As the educational leader who wants to start a multi-year multi-million dollar renovation, it’s important to know where he stands on this issue.

  4. J Kelly

    No … simply no more. This is the same group who wanted a high school in a flood plain. The names might be different but it’s still the same old rhetoric. How about getting a hospital first, maybe job’s above the minimal wage … there are too many people in this area who can’t afford anymore. This vote is a sham, why wasn’t it done during the general elections ? Just take a look in Esopus, a new high school in a very old building – the kids there are learning more / doing more than Kingston. Or how about the Coleman High School … Just vote NO

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