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January 29, 2021 - 2:28pm

City schools to explore returning students to the Robert Morris building

posted by Howard B. Owens in Robert Morris School, City Schools, batavia, news, notify.

It has been seven years since public school students cracked open a textbook at the Robert Morris building on Union Avenue in Batavia but the Batavia City School District superintendent is thinking it's time for that to change.

Anibal Soler Jr. suggested to the Board of Trustees on Monday night, along with a facilities consultant who made a presentation during the Zoom conference meeting, that Robert Morris is being underutilized; that there are space constraints elsewhere in the district, particularly at the middle school; and without students at Robert Morris, the building is a financial drain on the district.

"We wanted to throw something out there to get your mind working," Soler told the trustees. "We know we’ll have some fiscal challenges but to maintain a building that we don’t get anything for and we have to keep finding tenants as we do at Robert Morris, I think we have to start thinking about that, especially when we know the middle school is extremely packed right now."

In 2012, city schools consolidated their five schoolhouses into four -- Jackson Elementary, John Kennedy Primary, the middle school and the high school -- with Robert Morris becoming home to a couple of school programs with space available to tenants. The building has been generating $100,000 annually in lease payments for the district. That revenue will drop to $36,000 in the coming fiscal year. One tenant currently in the building is leaving once its lease expires in June. 

Meanwhile, because there are no students in the building, the district cannot receive state aid for any maintenance or improvements needed on the structure, Soler said.

The future of Robert Morris came up during a presentation by Richard Little and Brian Cieslinski, of SEI Design Group. The architectural firm was hired by the district to fulfill a state mandate to do a facilities review every five years.

The state requires each school district to go through these periodic reviews because identification of issues at school facilities helps the state's education department budget for aid to school districts.

SEI identified more than $40 million in maintenance issues that need to be addressed within the next five years.

“This looks daunting as far as a $40 million sum," Cieslinski said. "I would tell you, statistically, (compared to) a lot of our school districts this is actually a very good list. You’re maintaining your buildings very well."

The list includes items such as:

  • Jackson School
    • Improving accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
    • Replacing rooftop heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units
    • Installing an emergency generator
  • John Kennedy School
    • Improving drainage
    • Replacing broken or cracked concrete slabs
    • Accessibility
    • Moisture mitigation in the gym
    • Upgrades to the alarm and PA systems
  • Middle School
    • Exterior brick restoration
    • Moisture in the gym walls
    • Accessibility
    • Fire barrier in the auditorium
    • Installing an emergency generator
  • High School
    • Locker room renovations
    • A boiler upgrade
    • Moisture mitigation
    • Lighting upgrades
    • A new public address system
  • Robert Morris
    • Brick repairs
    • Window replacements
    • Accessibility
    • An upgrade to the fire alarm system and PA
    • An emergency generator

SEI delivered to the school district a thick binder that listed these items and many more that were ranked from 1 to 5 by priority. It will be up to district officials to figure out how best to prioritize these items over the next five years.

Board President Alice Ann Benedict asked if the conversion of Robert Morris back into a school is something that will be part of the upcoming budget discussions. Soler said, no. The conversion and reassignment of students will be a significant planning issue. It will take a lot longer than a couple of months to pull together and it also needs to involve discussion with the board, administrators, teachers, parents, and other community members.

Little did present one suggestion under consideration: Moving two classes of students out of the middle school -- possibly to Robert Morris, and then relocating district offices to the middle school. That would free up space at the high school, possibly for expanded STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education, as well as accommodate students in the future who might do better with remote learning even in a post-COVID-19 education world.

Soler was quick to emphasize that is just one idea and that more ideas need to be explored with community input.

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