North Shore School District ponders school upgrades


The main topic on the agenda of the North Shore School District’s Board of Education meeting on Oct. 11 was a pre-bond discussion with architects from CSArch, an engineering and construction management firm based in White Plains. The tax-neutral bond, if approved by residents, would fund safety and security upgrades, infrastructure improvements and the potential redesign of learning spaces districtwide.

Earlier this year, the board formed a bond steering committee to work with administrators and construction managers to keep the pre-bond process on track. “We’re in the pre-referendum stage,” Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said. “The committee is in the process of research and data collection, and the money [from this bond] could fall into one of four buckets.”

The so-called “buckets” are four priorities outlined in the district’s vision for the redesign. They focus on safety and security, instructional space, infrastructure and an “energy performance contract” (see box, Page 4). CSArch representative Daryl Mastracci explained that an EPC is a cost-neutral approach to building im-provements that reduce energy use while increasing operational efficiency.

Giarrizzo said that 80 people had expressed interest in contributing to the process as potential members of a bond advisory committee, which would be composed of community stakeholders. He also stressed that the process was strictly preliminary, and that there was no commitment from the school board to redesign instructional spaces.

Board President Sara Jones, who sits on the bond steering committee, said that community input on the proposed bond would be crucial. “The community has a huge investment in these five buildings, and we need to make sure they’re maintained,” she said. “This bond is our opportunity now, and we need input to make sure it works for everyone.”

The project could potentially redesign classrooms, libraries, media centers and other meeting places at all five schools without affecting the structure of the buildings, said Tina Mesiti-Céas, an architect with CSArch. “Our aim is to reorganize and reinvent current spaces at all the schools while coinciding the design with our four goals,” she said. “This means less formal, lecture-style setups and more active learning environments.”

The redesign could include “flexible” furniture that is easy to move, areas that are built out for greater storage, and maximizing the use of natural daylight to create more inviting learning spaces. “We’re making a space where students want to do their work,” Mesiti-Céas said. The architects also discussed infrastructure features that would enhance school safety, like security vestibules with built-in intercom systems at each main entrance point.

CSArch plans to hold “visioning” sessions and interview district personnel throughout the fall to gauge what district stakeholders would like to see included in the redesign. After several meetings, the firm will present a preliminary design before the end of the school year, with a public referendum slated for November 2019.

Giarrizzo noted that the district has an $800,000 bond expiring at the end of this year, and that it would be sensible to shift the retired funds to capital work and use them to leverage longer-term projects, such as improving learning spaces, at no additional cost to taxpayers. “Ideally, we would be borrowing at the same time [the debt] was falling off,” he said.

Denise Reiner, a parent, expressed concerns about the district issuing another bond, and suggested that the board use available funds for “needs that we know need to be addressed,” she said.

Board Vice President David Ludmar assured attendees that the preliminary steps being taken in the pre-bond process would “yield the right, responsible growth” for the district. “Our facilities have been operating in a certain way for a long time,” he said, “and introducing new ideas will position our district for the future.”

A community survey on the project is expected to be sent out to district residents by early December.