Students across the Kingston City School District return to class on Monday, Sept. 9. In the high school, freshmen are walking through hallways that haven’t changed all that much since their fellow upperclassmen were in their shoes. But a December vote on a proposal that would restore, refurbish and renovate Kingston High looms large and is likely to draw its fair share of supporters and detractors.
For years, district officials and school board trustees have thought over 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 three months ago — isn’t just about the building itself, said Superintendent Paul Padalino. It’s also about flexibility and a rapidly changing look at 21st century education.
“What I wanted was a plan that could have small learning communities, but I didn’t want the district to be tied in to an educational philosophy based on a building,” said Padalino in June. “We want a building that is going to be flexible. Maybe we go to small learning communities and it doesn’t work out, and we go back to a traditional compartmentalized high school program. We want to be able to do that. We want to be able to offer multiple different educational philosophies in this building. If it’s going to last 100 years, educational philosophies are going to change.”
Reached earlier this week, Padalino said that philosophy still holds true in the district’s $137.5 million plan. (This week, district officials said state aid would cover nearly two-thirds of the cost, leaving about $49.5 million to be paid for by district taxpayers.) In fact, he said, everything presented to the school board a few months ago is still pretty much the same. What has changed is that the district is building momentum to what it anticipates will be a busy run up to the vote on Tuesday, Dec. 10. After introducing the plan to the public in June, Padalino said it made sense to focus over the summer on preparing the district for the 2013-14 school year — including the final changes resulting from the comprehensive redistricting plan — before tackling the high school renovation project in the fall.
“With the summer being what it is, people are not really focused on what’s going on in the school district,” Padalino said. “It’s family time. Now when the students are coming back to school, that’s when they really begin focusing on the district. We can get people into the buildings to information sessions and forums.”
Information on public information sessions, and the details of the proposal itself, will be unveiled on the district’s official website in the coming weeks. Padalino said he feels the best chance for success at the polls is to ensure the community is as well-informed as possible. In addition to numerous district-organized public information sessions, Padalino said, school officials are seeking queries from groups throughout the Kingston area in the hopes of arranging plenty of other presentations as well.
“It’s a districtwide, communitywide information plan,” Padalino said. “I’m going to be speaking to the Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 12 about our plan, but any groups that want to hear about it, we will go out and see them or bring them to us, whatever works best for them. We’re really going to hit the ground running next week with getting the word out there, planning information sessions. We’re going to start with our faculty and staff next week. I’m going to do a speaking tour of our buildings to let our teachers know what’s going on. It is definitely a busy time here in Kingston.”
Bringing the staff up to speed on the proposal makes sense, as Padalino said he expects questions from parents may increase as the new school year begins. In addition to the cost, the project includes plenty of educational and structural changes as well. 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 27-page document provided by the school district last June, 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 $65.7 million.
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. But current high school students are also going to be made well aware of what’s at stake in December.
“The reality is that some of the kids won’t be here to see it realized, but many of them have brothers and sisters who are coming up who would,” said Kingston High School Principal Adrian Manuel. “Student perspective is the most valuable perspective in trying to make our school a better place. We’re hoping they’ll get excited, and we’re going to start showing them some of that this fall.”
Manuel said high school students will learn what the proposal is about, and some will actually be involved in passing along the information.