Syracuse's plans to renovate West Side school could be abandoned for 2nd time.

Originally Published at http://www.syracuse.com/schools/index.ssf/2017/05/syracuse_officials_ask_west_side_parents_to_choose_between_partial_renovation_cl.html

The main entrance to Westside Academy at Blodgett on Oswego Street in Syracuse.
The main entrance to Westside Academy at Blodgett on Oswego Street in Syracuse.(Julie McMahon | jmcmahon@syracuse.com)

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.

Mayor Stephanie Miner speaks to community members at Westside Academy. Miner told parents and staff that the city construction board was considering whether to abandon plans for a partial renovation, because little can be done with the funds available.Mayor Stephanie Miner speaks to community members at Westside Academy. Miner told parents and staff that the city construction board was considering whether to abandon plans for a partial renovation, because little can be done with the funds available. (Julie McMahon | jmcmahon@syracuse.com)

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?

Renovations at Westside Academy have been scrapped before.

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 entrance to the Westside Academy at Blodgett auditorium, which is out of use due to asbestos and problems with the roof. Basement windows are sealed and fenced because the exterior of the building is crumbling.The entrance to the Westside Academy at Blodgett auditorium, which is out of use due to asbestos and problems with the roof. Basement windows are sealed and fenced because the exterior of the building is crumbling. (Julie McMahon)

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."

Maria Robertson, center, said that as a parent at Westside Academy, it's hard to motivate her children to go to school in a building that is falling apart.Maria Robertson, center, said that as a parent at Westside Academy, it's hard to motivate her children to go to school in a building that is falling apart. (Julie McMahon | jmcmahon@syracuse.com)

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.

Reporter Julie McMahon covers Syracuse University and Syracuse city schools. She can be reached anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-412-1992


Green Party's Frank Cetera to seek at-large seat on Syracuse Common Council

Originally published at http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/05/green_partys_frank_cetera_to_seek_at-large_seat_on_syracuse_common_council.html#incart_river_index by Chris Baker.

Frank Cetera.JPG
Frank Cetera is running for one of two vacant at-large seats on the Syracuse Common Council. Cetera, a member of the Green Party, ran for the council's 2nd district in 2015. (Chris Baker | cbaker@syracuse.com)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Frank Cetera is seeking to be the first Green Party candidate elected to the Syracuse Common Council.

Cetera will run for one of two open at-large seats on the Common Council this fall.

Cetera, 44, lives on the city's Near Westside with his wife, activist Ursula Rozum. He works for the Onondaga Small Business Development Center at Onondaga Community College, consulting small- and medium-sized businesses. He is an official with the teachers union there, a delegate to the Greater Syracuse Labor Council and board president of Cooperative Federal Credit Union. 

Among his top priorities for the city are creating a municipal sidewalk program to keep sidewalks clear of snow, creating a worker's cooperative to stabilize the workforce and forging collective relationships with the county and the state.

He also supports a progressive income tax for people who live and work in the city, something proposed by Green Party mayoral candidate Howie Hawkins.

"We need the folks in eds and meds who live in the suburbs and surrounding towns and villages," he said. "But we also need them to take on their fair share of responsibility for city infrastructure."

Cetera said he would encourage live-streaming of Common Council meetings for people who couldn't attend. 

Cetera ran for the Council's 2nd District seat in 2015, losing to incumbent Chad Ryan, a Democrat. He took 21 percent of the vote in a three-way race that also included Republican Maryrose Angelo.

The Green Party's influence locally has steadily expanded beyond its small group of party members in recent elections. There are 378 registered Greens in the city -- about one-half of a percent of the registered voters. In 2015, though, Hawkins earned more than 5,000 votes in a losing race for city auditor and Cetera took 413 votes in the 2nd district.

Cetera joins Hawkins on the Green ticket this year. Hawkins said Monday the party will likely have several more candidates in races for local office. 

There are four Democrats seeking the party's endorsement for the two seats: Khalid Bey, Kyle Madden, Gary Morris and Tim Rudd. The Democrats meet later this week to choose candidates. 


Can Green Party Crack City Hall with Syracuse Councilor-at-Large Candidate?

Originally published at http://waer.org/post/can-green-party-crack-city-hall-syracuse-councilor-large-candidate

PHOTO CREDIT CHRIS BOLT/WAER NEWS

Syracuse City Hall, Syracuse, NY - A fourth candidate has entered the race for two Councilor-at-Large Seats on the Syracuse Common Council, that will be contested this November.  Progressive politics that oppose a conservative Congress and President might play a role in the local election.  The Green Party locally has run numerous candidates for a range of positions in City Hall, including this year's candidacy for Mayor by Howie Hawkins.  None has broken through to get elected yet.  

Is it time for Syracuse City Hall to get a green tint?  Frank Cetera of the Green Party believes so because of recent activism here around the environment or immigrants, and against conservative Washington politics.

“The greens are in line with many of those policies that the CNY Solidarity Coalition and other groups are espousing.  In addition to that all of us as candidate s with the greens, we are doing that work, we have been doing that work and we continue to do that work.” 

He’d support pushing some of the city’s economic development investments toward worker cooperatives and worker-owned businesses, something that’s gaining momentum in Rochester, Buffalo and New York City to support small, local businesses.

“Those are jobs that are stable.  Those are jobs that aren’t going anywhere because owners have control over them.  If we take a small portion of money from our budget to create worker-owned business center and development opportunities, instead of continually giving that money away to corporate developers, we con create more of those opportunities.” 

Cetera shares an idea of Green Party Mayoral Candidate Howie Hawkins of imposing a small income tax on people who work in the city, including those who commute in. 

“Because Syracuse does need the workers that come from outside of the city.  We need the folks in our Eds (education) and meds (medical) who are living in our surrounding suburbs and towns and villages.  But we also need them to take on their fair share of our city infrastructure that supports their employers and supports their jobs.”

PHOTO CREDIT CHRIS BOLT/WAER NEWS

He says he’d like to make city hall work better for residents by streaming common council meetings live over the internet, beefing up T-N-T groups, and figuring out, as most other snowy cities have done, a way to clear the sidewalks.

“We have individuals who live here who need to get to work.  We have families that need to go grocery shopping and we have students that need to walk to their grade school, middle school, high school and college locations. And we intend to take the burden off of the shoulders of individuals and onto the collective residents as a whole here in Syracuse. 

There will be two Councilor-at-Large seats open in November’s election.  Cetera joins a field that includes announced candidates Kyle Madden, Tim Rudd and Khalid Bey. 



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