After years of renovation and construction, months of anticipation, and weeks of students getting acclimated to their new digs, the Kingston City School District held an official unveiling ceremony at Kingston High School last week, showing the public for the first time how much has changed.
The unveiling on Thursday, Oct. 5 focused on the brand new Salzmann East and West wings on the Broadway campus, the first leg of a still-ongoing $137.5 million “Second Century” plan, which according to school officials is significantly ahead of schedule and under budget. In an effort to bring the district’s 20th century centerpiece into the 21st century, the project sought to make sense of a campus that had been assembled piecemeal over several decades.
Superintendent Paul Padalino this week said that it took a few days for students to get accustomed to a floor plan that while still incomplete will, he said, ultimately make sense in the long run. But Padalino acknowledged that there was still work to be done.
“While we’re kind of in this in between place, our academies aren’t solidly where they will be when the project is complete,” Padalino said. “There are freshmen going into Main [building] for certain things and having to come back to the new wing, which they won’t be doing when the project is done and the Salzmann corridor is fully completed and the classrooms are there. There is adjustment for that, but it’s temporary.”
Padalino added that work is continuing on the library and cafeteria, the latter of which will be complete in December.
“By and large the kids love it,” Padalino said. “I walk those halls probably three days a week, and traffic moves so much more smoothly in the halls. It’s a different atmosphere altogether.”
The ceremony was attended by Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Ninth Ward Alderwoman Deborah Brown, representatives from the offices of state Sen. George Amedore and the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, and more parents and members of the community than school officials anticipated. After the remarks and the ribbon-cutting itself, the new parts were open for attendees to check out. Many seemed impressed, with one observer saying, “It has that new-classroom smell.”
“It went phenomenally well with a turnout far greater than I expected,” Padalino said, adding that the event coincided with an open house event for secondary school parents and guardians. “With the ribbon-cutting, we set up chairs and I thought we had way too many. Actually, our custodians had to go into [Kate Walton] Field House to get more chairs, so many people came. It was really nice to see a lot of people from the community. It was one of those feel-good events that happen very rarely in my position.”
But while some of work in phase one is likely to continue through next summer, New York State Education Department funding rules means the district isn’t planning on starting the second phase until 2020. Padalino said the district is petitioning State Ed to bend those rules in light of the success of the Second Century project so far so the district can keep the momentum rolling, but he added he didn’t have any expectations the state would grant the request.
“I’ve been through several construction projects in my career and none of them as big as this, and yet this is going more smoothly than any of them,” Padalino said. “There’s hope. I like the phrase, ‘Hope is not a strategy.’ Right behind us are several other school districts, I’m sure, in similar situations hoping the state will think the same. We’ve requested it, but my mind is staying with the original timeline. If something else happens, great. If it doesn’t, we’re set and ready, and the majority of work is done. We have another 18-24 months worth of work.”
Work expected to run through next summer includes renovations in the North and South wings of Salzmann, the completion of a new entrance plaza to Kingston High, on-site parking, and the demolition of the Michael J. Myron Building, which was originally built 80 years ago as a middle school before being absorbed into the high school.
Work slated for the secondary phase includes renovations in the Main Building, plumbing upgrades, further gymnasium renovations in Kate Walton Field House, lobby renovations, and the demolition of the Whiston-Tobin Building, which was built in 1929.
Padalino said that while there was still plenty of work to be done, it was appropriate to take note of what’s been accomplished so far.
“The building itself is striking,” Padalino said. “It’s also striking in that it’s such a contrast from the classrooms and dark corridors of the old academic areas. It’s state-of-the art, modern, and bright. That has an impression. But being on time and under budget, and having very few problems changes a lot of people’s attitudes about it. We had a lot of support, but I also know some people thought there was no way to do a $137 million project on this postage stamp without mass confusion. I give our construction management team, BBL, all the credit. They are on top of it. They are taskmasters.”