Kingston School Board will consider using former elementary school to house administrators

The Cioni Building (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

The Cioni Building, the current administration building. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

The KCSD took a small step toward clarifying a plan for the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School last week when the school board voted to lead an environmental review of the site should they decide to approve a referendum that would turn the building into an administrative headquarters and pre-kindergarten hub.

The discussion took place Oct. 19 in the Cioni Building, the district’s current administrative center and a building which seems integral to any plans involving Meagher. The handsome edifice on Crown Street in Uptown Kingston, though not officially on the market, has been a frequent target of developers, receiving a highly publicized offer of $1 million earlier this year.

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Earlier this week, Superintendent Paul Padalino said his office continues receiving inquiries about Cioni; the morning after the meeting he received another.

“I got an e-mail Thursday morning at 8 o’clock from someone who was interested in knowing what the next step they should take should be,” Padalino said. “The interest is still there.”

The cost of renovating Meagher is unclear at present; the last time figures were discussed in detail was during a meeting held in late August, when Padalino said it would cost around $6 million to renovate Meagher for use solely as an administrative center, with the price tag rising to roughly $7.1 million if the renovations included preparation for a pre-K hub. He added that going with the former option wouldn’t mean they couldn’t add pre-K or anything else to the facility later as the administration would only use around half of the existing building.

Last week, school officials clarified that while they would receive more funding for the project if it includes a pre-K component, classrooms could be used for other purposes as well.

“The spaces that we would be renovating for classrooms don’t necessarily need to be used for pre-K,” said Trustee Danielle Guido. “So we could use them for alternative options. They’re just classroom space … Because we’ll be using our own money, we would be able to target populations.”

Padalino said the district had specifically asked for clarification from the state.

“We’ve been told by State Ed, and I asked for it in writing, that we would be able to, if we’re using local funds and not UPK New York State grant funds we can target the population that we think is most in need of these services,” he said. “If we want to target certain subgroups, we can do that.”

According to Padalino, combining the administrative move and pre-K into a single proposal would make some elements of the project eligible for state aid of around 60 percent. How using classrooms for other purposes affects state aid is still unclear.

Originally opened in 1874 on Wynkoop place, Meagher was expanded in 1917, 1961 and 1996. Its current size is 31,600 square feet on a 3.6-acre lot that may make it difficult to expand any further. Meagher was shuttered in 2012 as part of a comprehensive plan that dropped the number of elementary schools in the district from 11 to seven to address a dwindling student population, though Padalino said during last week’s School Board meeting that the district had recently seen a rise in student population for the first time in around 15 years.

The Cioni Building was officially on the market two years ago, receiving two bids coming in at approximately $650,000 that it ultimately rejected. Though no longer officially for sale, Cioni received its $1 million offer earlier this year from Grupo Habita, a Mexican-based firm that designs and operates hotels, with its closest — and largest — the 56-room Hotel Americano in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

During the meeting, Padalino said the district could move forward on seeking requests for bids on Cioni prior to a public referendum on Meagher with the understanding that a sale of the administrative hub is contingent on the Meagher plan moving forward.

This week Padalino said that after months of study and conversation, the district might finally be ready to figure out what happens next.

“Things are progressing,” he said, adding that the topic will be further discussed at a school board meeting on Nov. 2. “I’m trying to get them to nail down a date to vote so I can push out there and start talking to people about the merits of this project and why it’s a win for our community and our kids. We passed a [State Environmental Quality Review] resolution, which means we’re OK moving forward to put a proposal out there. We’ve been working with architects to look at the building and really refine our numbers and construction timelines. And once we get those things done it’s going to be time to start talking about the real estate sale here in Cioni.”

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