NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Word has begun to leak out that the New Rochelle Board of Education has secretly negotiated a deal to relocate the Alternative High School from the St. Gabes School on Washington Avenue near Montefiore New Rochelle to the Family Life Center at the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle on Lincoln Avenue.
Sources tell Talk of the Sound, staff at the Alternative High School were briefed yesterday on the move. According to these sources, staff were told that due to limited space at Bethesda teachers would have to share classrooms. ￼There is limited parking for the 25 district employees. There is no gymnasium at Bethesda. Required indoor physical education classes would take places at the Remington Boys & Girls Club on the other side of Lincoln Avenue on the other side of Lincoln Park. Outdoor physical education classes would take place in Lincoln Park. A banquet hall and kitchen on the second floor could serve as a cafeteria.
Last month, the City of New Rochelle Planning Board approved plans for the demolition of the Remington Boys & Girls Club as part of plans to build a new high rise apartment on the site, constructing a new Remington Boys & Girls Club facility on the current parking lot and building a new parking structure. This will require moving two massive 30 inch storm drains and other utility lines. The developers told the Planning Board the facility will be unavailable for two years.
The Parks Department has not agreed to make Lincoln Park available to the school district.
Asked about this after tonight’s school board meeting, Board President Amy Moselhi she should not publicly discuss real estate transactions, apparently in the mistaken belief that any and all real estate transactions are exempt from the New York State Open Meeting Law. The law lists an exemption for “the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.”
The classrooms at the Bethesda Family Life Center are largely unused and have been underutilized since they were first built in 1993. It is not credible to claim that publicity about the deal would generate other bidders looking to lease classrooms, especially as there is only one school district in New Rochelle.
Talk of the Sound obtained copies of the floor plan of the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle under a Freedom of Information request.
The plans show 14 “classrooms”. There are actually 7 rooms, two of them are rooms divided by moveable accordion partitions. The classrooms range from 185 square feet to 231 square feet.
The size and of a typical classroom in New Rochelle school buildings is about 550 square feet. The Bethesda classrooms are less than half the size of a regular classroom.
Under the International Building Code, the occupant load factor for egress for a school building is 20 square feet per person. A classroom of 200 square feet can have 10 people: a teacher, an aide and 8 students. Classes at the Alternative High School typically have about twice that many students
So, the classrooms are less than half the normal size and not surprisingly can hold half the number of students.
The Alternative High School currently occupies far more space at St Gabes than is available at Bethesda: 8 full size classrooms on the first floor, 4 full size classrooms on the second floor, a gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, music room, art room, fitness room, computer lab, resource room, nurse’s office, guidance counselor’s office, school psychologist’s office and administrative offices. Little of this will fit in the Bethesda space.
The Bethesda premises is on a very small footprint. Tiny. There is virtually no outdoor space at all: zero on the East side, 6 feet on the South side, 3 feet on the North and West side not to mention a 12 foot high chain link fence on those two sides. The space is mostly below ground with limited windows, including large opaque yellow windows.
The Bethesda facility would require significant retrofitting to be compliant with the State Education building code raising questions of who would pay that cost. Public School Districts are not permitted to spend taxpayer funds to repair and maintain property they do not own except on an emergency basis (such a waiver was obtained for Holy Family School in the wake of the Webster ceiling collapse in 2015). Unanswered is who would pay these costs and who will benefit from upgrading the existing structure. One concern is that construction expenditures could be hidden by rolling the costs into an above-market lease agreement.
The CHOICES program, a recently created program to offer an alternative to schools suspensions, was originally located at the Remington Boys & Girls Club but moved after claims, led by NewROAR Founder David Peters, that locating the program in the center of New Rochelle’s black community was, according to Peters, “racist”. Ironically, CHOICES was relocated to St. Gabes.
David Peters is a Deacon at Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle.
Peters has been at the forefront of the effort to oust Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo. He and his NewROAR activists have picketed and protested Feijóo at every school board since Feijóo was hired. They have held press conferences, issued statements and participated in anti-Feijóo rallies. Peters was one of the key players in the creation of The Collective which filed a complaint with the New York State Education Commissioner opposing Feijóo’s hiring and demanding she be removed. The Collective under Peters’ leadership, filed a similar lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court. The Collective held a meeting a few months ago to explain the Supreme Court Lawsuit to The Collective members. It was held at the Family Life Center at Bethesda Baptist. David Peters was an active presence at the meeting, addressing the crowd and working the room.
Talk of the Sound has learned that David Peters recently sent an email to members of The Collective notifying them that he is dropping out of The Collective and will no longer be involve in the SED complaint or the lawsuit or otherwise involve in efforts to remove Feijóo from office.
The timing of this announcement and the Bethesda deal has struck many as curious, notably those associated with the alternative high school.
Moselhi tonight bristled at the suggestion that relocating the Alternative High School to David Peter’s church, the home of NewROAR, had the appearance of a payoff intended to weaken opposition to Feijóo in the black community by using taxpayer money to create a financial windfall for a church closely associated with a vocal critic of the District and Feijóo who has routinely characterized the leadership of the district as racist.
While there is no evidence of a backroom deal, there is no getting around the fact that it is impossible to justify shoving 80 students and 25 employees into a space than is inarguably too small. It simply does not pass the smell test.
There is no legal or financial justification for keeping the Bethesda deal secret. The only reason is because it will not stand up to even cursory scrutiny.
Sadly, the students at the Alternative High School are the least likely to benefit from community advocacy. Unless the community pushes back, this appears to be a “done deal”.