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$45M Batavia capital project includes repairs, turf fields, a move back for fifth grade

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith
Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith

A proposed $45 million city school district capital project would make way for the fifth grade to move back to John Kennedy, for student-athletes to run bases on a synthetic field at the high school and for buildings to be upgraded and equipped with emergency blue light phones, Superintendent Jason Smith says.

The project is not about expansion, rather, it’s about ensuring that the facilities are maintained or improved for all five district buildings plus Richmond Memorial Library, Smith said Monday afternoon before reviewing the plan during the board of education’s meeting.

“We want to take care of our facilities and our property, I think we all want that for our families and students. More than one community member has come up to me and said, ‘You know, we like to see our money is being spent wisely. We want to see our dollars being put to good use.’ I've heard that many times, not just from families or not just from parents, but from community members,” Smith said.  “We’re seeking to enhance what we already have and make the necessary improvements to the roofs, to the upgrades, to the IT. We're not seeking to expand, we're seeking to take care of what we currently have. And we're also with, with the reconfiguration, we're really trying to emphasize the importance of early childhood education.”

The district performs a building conditions survey every five to seven years, and the architect Clark Patterson Lee recommended a detailed scope of work that was prioritized from one to three, Smith said, with mostly ones and twos being chosen for the project. Much of the work is being done to shore up 20-year-old infrastructure, such as the high school’s boiler system, roof, and the gym at Robert Morris.

Nothing is on the list to be expanded, such as extra classrooms or other such student space, which makes sense according to enrollment projections. By the district's calculations, total enrollment topped out at 2,383 in 2013, and fluctuated until it peaked for the last time in 2020 at 2,190, declining to 1,978 in 2023. Estimated total enrollment will be 1,933 in 2024, 1,902 in 2025, 1,880 in 2026 and 1,858 by 2027.

As for Robert Morris, which had some tweaks last year to ready it for a reopening in the fall, “We keep addressing the needs,” Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said. 

“Since it’s been vacant for 10 years,” he said of the former elementary school site at Union Street and Richmond Avenue.

Work there would include meeting and evaluation room renovations, dedicated teacher lunch and work rooms with unisex restrooms, gym renovations, masonry repairs, fire alarm replacements and playground improvements.

There's "significant grant funding" earmarked for early childhood education, and school officials are trying to best use those resources and focus on those early learning years. While that focuses much attention on Robert Morris, officials also reviewed the grade separations at John Kennedy and the middle school, Smith said. "We knew parents were upset" when fifth-graders were moved over to BMS, he said, so "we also want to return the fifth grade to John Kennedy."

All of the schools have many of the same upgrades, including PA/clock and fire alarm replacements, phone system replacement, blue light notification system, information technology infrastructure improvements and pavement replacement for Jackson, John Kennedy, and the middle and high schools.

Jackson is also in line for building-mounted lighting and the replacement of a failing retaining wall on the east side between the school and its neighbors. John Kennedy would also get a new roof, an upgraded gym divider curtain and regraded softball field and other amenities.

Batavia Middle School “is getting the most renovations to the interior space,” Smith said, “where it’s needed.”

“The whole school really needs a lot of work; it’s a historic, beautiful building, and we're trying to home in on that to give it the attention it needs,” he said. “I think that foundation repairs is an example of that.”

A gender-neutral restroom, staff restroom, foundation repairs around the entire building, and a glass safety railing for the auditorium balcony are some of those repairs and upgrades. The conditions survey prompted the glass railing because people sitting in the balcony could also be a potential safety concern, he and Rozanski admitted. 

“It’s the best seat in the house, in my opinion, but we want to make sure that it's well protected and safe for our students,” Smith said.

The middle school softball field will also receive some improvements and a backstop replacement.

Batavia High School is on tap for a new roof, and for anyone paying attention, in December 2021, the school did receive some patchwork after a mini twister blew off a portion of it. However, a large portion of the roof needs replacing, Rozanski said, and that’s what is scheduled in this capital project. 

Current students ought to like this next part: two synthetic turf fields planned for the high school, a baseball and softball field each, for about $7 million of the total cost. A proposed turf field at Van Detta Stadium upset a fair number of people — prospective tax-paying voters — so The Batavian asked Smith why turf for the high school. 

The fields behind the State Street site have been prone to excess water and drainage issues for years, he said, since the school was built on a swamp. “We have received complaints from families,” he said and had to move several games to Genesee Community College as a result. 

Synthetic turf raises the playing field, alleviates pooling water, and provides “a better quality playing field for the kids,” he said. Installing this type of material would permanently fix the swamping issue, he said. 

“Most of us don’t see it as a luxury anymore,” he said. 

While yes, the work is warranted and will maintain all of the facilities, the more important selling point is the cost to taxpayers, he said. 

“Most of that is from state aid, the rest from our reserves,” he said. “So there'll be no additional taxes as a result of this project.”

A note about gender-neutral bathrooms, which are slated to be installed or to replace bathrooms at the middle and high schools.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are something found in older grades, and not at John Kennedy and Jackson, Smith said. They are part of board policy and Title IX regulations. Under Title IX, discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match [their] gender identity is prohibited from sex discrimination under Title IX. There is a public interest, by federal policy, in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination.

The board is expected to vote on the capital project in October, with a public vote to be in December to ensure enough time to go out for bid in 2024 and schedule work to begin 2024-25. The project completion is estimated for the end of 2027. 

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