Downsize plan’s costs and impacts elicit mixed response

HUDSON–“We moved to Hudson with two small children in August, and one of Hudson’s most attractive features is a small, secure school, with all the little kids together, in the center of town,” Clare Rocha told a “community conversation” January 20. The topic was the Hudson City School District’s proposed $20-million Capital Project, which goes before voters in the district February 9.

Ms. Rocha was talking about the John L. Edwards Primary School. “Proximity-wise, it makes sense. One reason we bought a house here is to support a public school system we believe in,” she said. “How can you shutter a functional school?”

The Capital Project includes enlarging the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School building to hold primary grade students so that the district can close the primary school building sometime between 2019 and 2021.

The primary school’s inner city setting limits space for parking, for buses, and for drop-offs and pick-ups by car, while generating traffic safety concerns, Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier said. “We’re running out of horizontal space,” she said. And though the building is “filled to capacity now,” she said, “this school is not used to capacity.” She said the district can operate more efficiently and economically with two campuses rather than three. District enrollment is declining.

Having only two campuses would mean students would have only one campus transition in their 14-year path from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, allowing more teachers to communicate more with each other and reducing the psychological stress on students. “Two schools rather than three schools make sense,” Dr. Suttmeier said.

“When I first came in 2012, I was charged with downsizing the school district,” the superintendent said. “I looked at it and found it wasn’t the time. Now is the time.”

As envisioned the intermediate school would hold pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, with grades 6 through 12 at the Jr./Sr. high. The transition is scheduled to start this September, with 6th grade moving to the junior high building.

The Capital Project also includes building new athletic facilities, bringing the 3-story section of the intermediate school (IS) built in the 1930s, up to current standards. Community conversations on the Capital Project will take place every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the primary school until the vote.

About 30 people attended the January 20 meeting, including School Board members William Kappel, David Kisselburgh, Carrie Otty, and Sumayyah Shabazz, Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino, District Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon, Primary School Principal Steven Spicer, several Primary School teachers, and area residents like Ms. Rocha. At that meeting, what received most audience input was the anticipated closing of the Primary School and how additions to the IS school would accommodate little children.

“How does this move improve Primary School education?” asked Mr. Spicer.

“We’d be able to align the curriculum better,” answered Dr. Suttmeier. “It would be better for students transitioning between grades.”

Ms. Rocha, whose children are two and four years old and who lived on Long Island and in Brooklyn before moving to Hudson, worried about mixing little and big children.

George Keeler, superintendent of buildings and grounds, assured her that the little children will have their own section on buses, up front, near the driver. And Dr. Suttmeier indicated primary students would have their own wing of the upgraded intermediate school.

Mr. Keeler also responded to questions about parking and traffic safety at the IS site, saying the district is considering adding parking spaces. One woman suggested adding a traffic light at Harry Howard Avenue.

Primary school teachers raised concerns about bathrooms, drinking fountains, nurses office, playgrounds, library shelves and room sizes. Mr. Keeler said that there would be bathrooms in classrooms.

Dr. Suttmeier said there will be one nurse’s office for all grades located near the primary wing. Older children would keep their existing playground, and the district is eyeing some city land as a “playscape” for younger students. The library would have a section for primary students with low shelves.

The primary grade teachers who attended offered differing reactions to the plan. “Those of us who’ve taught here for years, we’re happy here. Yeah, we’d like more gym and playroom, but we won’t get them in the new school either,” she said.

Another teacher said, “I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t want to move.” She teachers just want to make sure that the next school will fit the children’s needs.

Dr. Suttmeier said she hopes to add to the IS building by constructing a new one-story wing on more land, rather than a second floor on an existing one-story wing. That would save the cost of adding elevators.

Dr. Suttmeier warned that “there is no contingency plan” if the Capital Project fails to win voter approval. “We’ll just have to cut programs and staff,” she said, adding, “less debt service means less state aid.” The district must update school facilities regardless, she said.

As for the proposed athletic fields, “Our students think we don’t care about them because of the state of our athletic fields,” added Dr. Suttmeier.

“You have to think about the whole system, not just the littlest kids,” she said.

“I want to thank Dr. Suttmeier for these community meetings,” said Mr. Spicer, “because this is a democracy. All opinions are worth it, down to the last water fountain.”

The community conversation about the Capital Project is Wednesday, February 3, at 6 p.m. at the primary school.


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