School officials last week discussed plans for moving the Kingston City School District’s administrative headquarters to the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School, minus the option of using space in that building for a universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) program.
During Aug. 31’s school board meeting Superintendent Paul Padalino updated preliminary plans for a move into Meagher, which was closed as a school in 2012. The meeting was held in the Cioni Building on Crown Street, a property inextricably linked to the proposed move.
According to Padalino, 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. Padalino 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.
“Upstairs … the classrooms and areas where we had expected to put UPK classes, (we would be) leaving those un-renovated but still open and still open to the possibility of many things, whether they be UPK or any other programs that the district decided we wanted to run,” Padalino said. “Maybe an adult ed program, maybe an alternative school or something like that down the road, we decided those would be open for that.”
But, Padalino added that 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.
“If you were doing both, you might be renovating bathrooms that would be aidable because we have students in the building,” he said. “Some of the mechanical work, some of the plumbing, the electrical work, the technology work would be fundable because we’re putting some classes in there … We’d have to do that same work anyway when we move in there, but it would not be aidable.”
Additionally, Padalino said, there are more expensive items on the renovations list than classrooms.
“If we go there, we have to put an elevator in; if UPK and central office goes there, we have to put an elevator in,” he said. “So some of those costs don’t go away, and the renovation of the classrooms themselves probably isn’t the biggest of the costs.”
Three months ago, some school board trustees expressed reservations about combining the administrative move and the opening of a pre-K hub in a single proposal.
“This is complicated for me,” Robin Jacobowitz said in June. “We’re conflating pre-K and moving the administration. With this project, those are linked, and I’m not sure we should be making decisions about pre-K connected to decisions about the administration moving. To me those are separate things, and for me if we decide the way to do it is to put them together, then OK.”
Originally opened in 1874 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.
The Cioni Building was officially on the market two years ago, receiving two bids it ultimately rejected. Though no longer officially for sale, Cioni received a $1 million offer earlier this year from Grupo Habita, a Mexican-based firm that designs and operates hotels, with its closest — and largest — being the 56-room Hotel Americano in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Expiration date on ‘New Brooklyn’?
Last week, trustees said the district should operate with a sense of urgency in discussing the possibility of putting the Cioni Building on the market.
“I think it’s very important that we understand there is right now a market out there for this building,” said Trustee the Rev. James Childs. “For us to sit on that and lose that opportunity, I think would be wrong.”
Trustee Suzanne Jordan agreed, noting that Kingston’s recent status as a hip destination for urbanites weary of New York City might not be permanent.
“I would be afraid that if we just keep postponing it because we’re discussing the UPK, then we’re going to move that 24 months to 36 months,” she said. “And that would make me uncomfortable, because this might not be the new Brooklyn at that time.”
Padalino said the district couldn’t expect state aid on the project if a pre-K program wasn’t a definite piece of the puzzle; identifying it as a future possibility in their proposal wouldn’t work.
“We would have to be able to illustrate to the New York State Education Department that there would be students in those classrooms,” said Padalino.
Padalino acknowledged that the potential cost of moving into Meagher has risen in the past and will continue rising while school officials and the Board of Education try and figure out what to do.
“I think that there’s some pencil-sharpening that needs to be done with this as we look at what our options are,” he said. “One of our goals for this whole project is to take a look at capital reserve fund, Smart Schools money, sale of Cioni, no impact on local taxpayers … This is a pretty complex conversation.”