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Superintendent and BOE discuss capital project relocation plan

capital project news graphicIn a special Feb. 29 Board of Education meeting attended by about 40 community members, Superintendent of Schools Judith C. Pastel outlined plans for relocating some students and staff during the district’s capital improvement project, set to start this summer.

The plan calls for grades 9 and 10 to move to Driver Middle School for the next two school years, while grade 4 relocates to K.C. Heffernan Elementary School. Grades 11 and 12 will remain at Marcellus High School; grades 5-8 will stay at DMS; and grades K-3 will remain at KCH. District administrative offices, currently housed at DMS, will temporarily move to another location on or close to campus. The plan calls for no “shoe-horning,” a.k.a.  increased class sizes, or reduction in teaching staff.

Because the $14.85 million building project calls for the renovation of all instructional spaces at the 50-year-old high school, the building will only be able to fit two grade levels during the project’s three construction phases, Dr. Pastel explained.

Administrators initially thought there’d be enough room for three grades and researched the use of portable classrooms for the ninth grade. But the cost – an estimated $750,000 – was deemed too high. The less money the district spends on transition costs, the more it can funnel into state-of-the-art improvements at the high school, Dr. Pastel said.

“This is a cost-responsible approach,” she said.

The project includes a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) wing on the high school’s first floor, a humanities wing (English and social studies) on the second floor, a new choral room, library and computer lab upgrades, an enhanced secure entrance and more.

Since January, administrators and teachers have been evaluating the classroom spaces available for use during the transition – including the former Kasson Road Elementary School owned by the district – to determine the least disruptive plan. In that time, board members quickly realized how much the Marcellus community values a single, unified campus.

Board member Michael McAuliff, a retired elementary school principal who has been down the capital project road before, said he thought the availability of the Kasson Road facility was “a blessing.” At least until he started talking to people around town.

“I seriously underestimated the importance of a single campus. It’s very important to this community,” Mr. McAuliff said. “I truly believe the relocation plan we have is the best plan for this project at this time in this community.”

Fellow board member Janine Lundrigan commended district staff for all their time, thought and effort. She said her chief concern – that underclassmen enrolled in accelerated courses up at the high school will have enough time to travel between DMS and SHS – has been sufficiently addressed. The plan calls for the clustering of classes to maximize the time that DMS-based students spend at the high school.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time looking at class schedules to figure out the least amount of movement,” Dr. Pastel said. “I’m just really proud of the staff. They’ve really taken ownership and engaged in some important problem-solving.”

Some community members have suggested turning DMS into a junior-senior high school building for grades 7-12. But the middle school doesn’t have enough specialized classrooms (science labs, art rooms with running water, etc.) to accommodate all high school students simultaneously, Dr. Pastel said.

The mother of an eighth-grader expressed concern that her daughter would miss out on the chance to mingle with upperclassmen over the next two years. Marcellus High School Principal John Durkee said all clubs and extracurricular activities will be available to students in grades 9-12, and the school’s site-based team has suggested extending the daily activity period to 3:15 p.m., to ensure all DMS-based students would have enough time to travel to the high school. Students in grades 9-12 also will be together for school assemblies, homecoming events and athletics.

“It’s not just a 9-10 sacrifice,” Mrs. Lundrigan said. “Teachers and students at every level are sacrificing something. But to do nothing would be far worse.”

Another parent applauded the plan’s special focus on 10th graders, who made the move to the high school this year and now will need to move back. Administrators have talked about turning the DMS atrium into a 10th grade space.

“Every effort to help those kids be reoriented and comfortable is well worth it,” the parent said.

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