SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What do you do with a crumbling, cracking, asbestos-ridden middle school?
Syracuse officials Tuesday night warned parents and staff there isn't enough money to fix Westside Academy at Blodgett.
Instead, they asked community members to choose: A partial renovation -- short nearly $40 million of the school's estimated needs -- or complete closure.
Westside Academy is one of the 14 Syracuse school buildings slated for renovations as part of the second wave of construction in city schools. A state law passed in 2006 created the Joint Schools Construction Board to oversee updates to schools across the city.
Mayor Stephanie Miner, JSCB chair, called a public meeting to be "as upfront as possible," she said. "There are many more needs than can be funded."
The school, opened in 1918, is in dire need of updates, parents and staff said. The building's condition impedes on teaching and learning, several community members said.
More than 50 people, including many district staff, attended the heated, sometimes emotional meeting. Questions were fielded by the mayor, Superintendent Jaime Alicea and officials from Turner Construction and King+King Architects, the firms overseeing plans for the building.
Audience members frequently joined in chorus of, "When? when? when?" They demanded answers about some of the building's more urgent needs. Among their complaints:
The roof leaks, the floors are cracking, and the auditorium is unable to be used due to roof damage and asbestos. The gymnasium, doing double-duty as an auditorium, needs a makeover. The water fountains are rusted and unusable.
The basement is in such disrepair that it's mostly used as a hallway.
Many windows and walls are boarded up. Fencing has been placed around much of the building's exterior due to the crumbling facade.
A school with a capacity of 900 students only has 403 students attending this year, Alicea said. Asbestos and other issues makes some of the space off limits.
Several audience members said they recalled discussions about renovations starting years, even decades, ago.
In 2008, the Blodgett school was at the top of the district's priority list. Yet, the school was passed over in the first phase of construction at that time.
Once again, the Oswego Street school finds itself facing the same fate.
Below are some questions parents and staff asked:
What are the chances the renovation plans will be abandoned? Will the school really close?
At Tuesday's meeting, the mayor suggested students could be sent to another school. When pressed by audience members, Miner said she was not yet leaning toward either that option or using the available funds for a partial renovation.
In 2008, the construction board abandoned plans after facing a similar predicament.
Abandoning the renovation and closing the school are two separate decisions that would be made by two different boards.
The construction board decides whether to spend money updating the school; The school board would have to agree to close it.
When asked by attendees, officials said it was too early to determine whether the school would reopen to students this fall.
Maria Revelles, a Near West Side resident who had two children attend the school, said it would be unacceptable not to help improve a school in one of the poorest communities in the country.
"Give us the $17 million. It gives us hope. Closing Blodgett is not an option," she said to applause. "It would rip the heart out of this community."
What can be done to fix the building with $17.9 million?
King + King Architects presented a plan for what it could do with the available funds.
They recommended preserving the masonry, windows and roof on the exterior of the building. Officials stressed the need to repair the roof and prevent leafs in order to preserve the entire building.
The next priority would be safety, security and accessibility, officials said. Bathrooms would be updated to comply with accessibility standards, and new security equipment would be installed.
That would leave around 12 percent, or $2.15 million, of the project's budget, for interior improvements. Officials said they have not determined what they would fix inside first, but said they would consult teachers and families.
Audience members' requests included air conditioning or better air circulation, and a functional auditorium. Miner said she did not think the auditorium could realistically be renovated with the money available.
"Why don't we start from the inside, out?" asked parent Maria Robertson. "I don't care what the outside looks like."
How soon could construction start?
The earliest possible time for construction to begin is summer 2018. That's when most of the first nine projects at city schools will begin.
Officials did not provide a timeline for when construction at Westside would be completed. Other schools in the pipeline have estimates of fall 2019.
All of that is subject to state approvals, board negotiations, lawyers, designers and weather, officials cautioned.
Community members asked if the district could move students out of the building to expedite the renovation. Other schools are using "swing space" in other district buildings. That is not currently being considered for Westside Academy.
Attendees pushed for some of the school's more urgent needs to be addressed outside of the bigger plans for the building.
A youth advocate through the Hillside Work-Scholarship Program said the water fountains in the school are so old and rusty that he and his colleagues take turns buying jugs of water to give out to students.
Superintendent Alicea said the district would consider ways it could take care of smaller updates requested by audience members.
If the school is in such poor shape, why isn't more money being spent on its renovation?
Red tape, Miner said.
The state allocates funding with certain conditions.
According to the mayor, the money that flows through Syracuse's construction board can't be used to build new schools. The state regulates how much money can be spent on each building and what types of projects will be covered, she said.
The funds must be used to update schools citywide, Miner said. The board tries to renovate an equal number of schools from each of the city's quadrants during each construction phase, she said.
Syracuse got $300 million to spend on 14 schools during this phase.
If each school received an equal amount, it would be $21.4 million, more than has been allocated for Westside. That angered some audience members.
Officials said more of Westside's needs could be addressed in the next phase of construction. Officials said the process for that would likely begin in five years.
Who will be included in the decision?
West Side resident Frank Cetera said he lives four blocks from the school but never received official notice of the meeting.
Cetera said he was concerned about how decisions would be made about the building and whether residents' opinions would truly be considered.
Cetera suggested meetings like this be publicized online and even broadcast live through Facebook.
The meeting did not appear on the City Hall schedule or anywhere else online, based on a search of the city's website and Google. The Post-Standard and Syracuse.com did not receive notice of the meeting.
Alicea said letters went home with students at the school. School board member Rita Paniagua said she and other community members tried to spread the word through fliers and knocking on doors.
Mayor said the meeting was the first step toward informing the community.
"The easiest thing in the world would have been to make this decision quietly at 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday," Miner said, referencing the typical time the construction board holds its meetings.
What happens next?
Miner said the construction board would make its decision within about a month.
She said she wanted to hear from more people about the two options through emails, calls and informal meetings. She said more public meetings would be held as necessary.
The construction board will publicize its agenda when it considers the plans for Westside Academy, she said.
"So, there's no surprises," she said. "I never want you to be surprised."
The next meeting of the Joint Schools Construction Board is Thursday morning at 9 a.m. in the SyraStat conference room at City Hall. The following meeting is scheduled for June 22 at the same place and time.