NEW ROCHELLE, NY — This article is Part 5 of 8 in a series on the June 23rd meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education where administrators and board members discussed a plan to move the Alternative High School from St. Gabes High School to the Family Life Center at Bethesda Baptist Church. There were four subsequent board meetings – two in executive session and two in public session. This series is focused on what took place on June 23rd, an attempt to deceive the board and the public by cherry-picking or withholding information in order to “sell” Bethesda to a skeptical school board.
A fair assessment of any issues with St. Gabes’ physical plant would have included the context of issues and incidents with the schools owned by the City School District of New Rochelle.
Much was made of the 2015 Building Condition Survey, especially by Thurnau.
Despite the dire characterization of St. Gabes during the meeting, Carl Thurnau and Dr. Feijoo both signed off on the 2020 inspection report for St. Gabes which means they each vouched for the safety and integrity of the structure as recently as 6 weeks before the board meeting.
Based on their sign-off a Certificate of Occupancy was issued through until April 1, 2021 which means there is no structural reason to move out of St. Gabes.
In fact, since the 2015 BCSI was finalized in April 2016, the New York State Education Department Facilities Office issued a Certificate of Occupancy for St. Gabes every single year including 2016 when the NYSED Facilities Office was run by Carl Thurnau and in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 when he ran the Facilities Office for the City School District of New Rochelle.
There are no records of any complaints about St. Gabes to NYSED on file with NYSED.
At every opportunity efforts were made to portray St. Gabes High School as dark, dreary and dilapidated. Marrero called St. Gabes a “gloomy learning environment” a point seconded by Schwach who said her greatest concern with St. Gabes is that it is not as bright and encouraging as New Rochelle High School.
This stands in marked contract to the 2015 Building Condition Survey which gave the building the highest possible rating for General Appearance, Cleanliness, and Lighting Quality. The only concern with lighting raised in the 2015 BCSI was some exterior lighting which has since been replaced.
A great deal was made about issues with the heating at St. Gabes. No mention was made of the non-functioning air conditioning system at Bethesda.
Marrero and Thurnau repeatedly returned to their claims that classes were cancelled on several occasions without providing any details. Amy Moselhi said “mechanical problems trumps not having a gym”. Neither Marrero, Thurnau or Moselhi mentioned that schools throughout the District over the years have closed from time to time due to issues with their heating system including Christopher Columbus Elementary School (oil spill, no heat), Trinity Elementary School (oil spill), Albert Leonard Middle School (double failure of two boilers, no heat for a month) and New Rochelle High School due to electrical issues.
They also failed to note that the 2015 BCSI for St. Gabes states there were zero days over the previous 12 months when school was closed due to mechanical issues.
There was one day during this recently ended school year when Con Edison shut down power in the area around St. Gabes after a man was electrocuted on a construction site in the West End of New Rochelle. Christopher Columbus Elementary School was also shut down for this reason.
A representative of the New York Archdiocese acknowledged there were issues with the heating system at one time but said the oil tank and fittings were replaced, the boiler itself is from 2004 and well within its useful life. There were no issues over the past school year.
Thurnau stated that the gymnasium floor at St. Gabes buckled due to steam venting into the boiler room below the gymnasium. He failed to mention that the damaged area was relatively small and the gymnasium continued in use until the floor was repaired a few weeks later during a school vacation period. He also failed to contrast that to Bethesda which does not have a gym at all.
Any concerns about the St. Gabes physical plant or structural issues would properly be within the purview of RESCUE. Carl Thurnau never raised any concerns about St. Gabes to the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee which has facilities oversight responsibility as a state-mandated committee invested with statutory authority by New York State under the New York State RESCUE Law.
The District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee receives a monthly report on structural safety issues throughout the District. None of these issues was ever reported by Thurnau.
I would like to make a personal digression
The District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee was formed specifically in response to my efforts in reporting on the massive corruption under Aramark going back decades. I worked directly with the U.S. Department of Justice to bring these issues to light. The reason so many problems were identified in the 2015 Building Condition Surveys was a result of corruption in the Facilities Department under John Gallagher, an Aramark employee who held the title of Facilities Director in New Rochelle, and who was convicted in a bribery and kickback scheme then sentenced to about three years in Federal prison
I am one of the few original members left on the present iteration of the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee formed in March 2016. My involvement with facilities in New Rochelle issues goes back to 2008 and long predates the arrival of Thurnau, Marrero, and Feijoo as well as Greg Kern the School Business Official as well as the entire school board including Moselhi and Warhit. The only senior school official still left from 2008 is Assistant Superintendent Anthony Bongo.
Over the past five schools years, the RESCUE committee has included Joe Starvaggi who had direct legal responsibility for the Alternative High School, School Board leadership (Rachel Relkin, Maddali Attalah and Amy Moselhi), FUSE leadership including Martin Daly, Billy Coleman and Aisha Cook and City Manager Charles B. Strome.
The only discussion that mentioned St. Gabes was one instigated by Billy Coleman of FUSE regarding security measures taken at various schools and why they were not taken at St. Gabes. I will not describe them here but suffice to say Carl explained to the committee what he explained to the board that the District is limited under the law in using taxpayer dollars to repair or upgrade a building the district does not own. A waiver, however, can be obtained. Such a waiver was sought for Holy Family School by the District in 2015 after the Webster ceiling collapse. It was granted by Carl Thurnau in his former position with NYSED.
It is a standing policy of the RESCUE Committee that Thurnau is to immediately produce any violation notices that he receives upon delivery (and not to wait for a meeting of the committee). He has produced a variety of violation notices from outside agencies over the years. He has never produced any violation notices to the RESCUE Committee for St. Gabes.
Between January and March 2016, there were meetings held throughout the District where CS Arch, Aramark and CSDNR employees reviewed the 2015 BCS Reports. I attended almost all of them (and had a person attend the others for me to ask questions and take notes). There was no such review meeting at St. Gabes.
Between March and May 2016, Superintendent Dr. Osborne tasked the RESCUE Committee with reviewing the BCS reports in order to make a recommendation on what would become the $106.5 mm bond passed in May 2016. These public meetings generated a great deal of interest from the public. There was intense media coverage. We did not receive a copy of the St. Gabes BCSI or discuss the St. Gabes BCSI. We were never consulted about the St. Gabes BCSI as is indicated on the Final BCSI form filed with NYSED.
RESCUE Co-Chair Melissa Passarelli has in the past invited each school to send representatives to RESCUE meetings. There was at least one occasion a representative from St. Gabes attended. I do not recall that person from St. Gabes raising any issues or concerns.
Between 2016 and 2018. I was directly involved in the search for a new location for the campus school at the request of then-Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Jeff White. After the Webster ceiling collapse in August 2015, White had a few weeks to to find a temporary location for Webster School and bring it up to code before the start of the school year. In the process he looked at several locations and developed a strong interest in Blessed Sacrament High School as a future home for the Campus School.
Holy Family School was brought up to code then used by Webster School while their Webster School building was repaired and renovated. In December 2015, Webster School left Holy Family School and returned to the Webster School building.
White then entered into negotiations with the New York Archdiocese to lease Holy Family School or Blessed Sacrament High School for a new Campus School location. The Holy Family School was deemed unacceptable as a location for the Campus School due to its proximity to New Rochelle High School. White could not come to terms with the New York Archdiocese on Blessed Sacrament High School which has since been sold to developers.
White asked for my help in identifying other possible locations. I identified several spaces that were unoccupied and potentially available: Post Marine Marine Supply at 65 River Street (now the proposed site for Firehouse #1, the New Rochelle Armory on East Main Street, the wing of City Hall formerly occupied by the New Rochelle Police Department and the New Rochelle City Court and a commercial space at 71 North Avenue near Union Street. For various reasons these options did not pan out so that by the time White left the District is the fall of 2018 an active effort to relocate the Campus School had ceased.
On March 2, 2020 both Billy Coleman and myself were made aware of the decision to move the Campus School from St. Gabes to Bethesda. We both asked Amy Moselhi, Dr. Feijóo, and Carl Thurnau about the proposed move. Moselhi and Dr. Feijóo were clearly upset to hear questions about what they believed to be a secret deal and refused to answer questions. Thurnau would only say he wanted to move the school out of St. Gabes. The RESCUE Committee has not met once since March 2nd.
Despite their not wanting to respond, Moselhi, Feijóo, and Thurnau heard me say Schwach told the staff at St. Gabes on March 2nd that the move to Bethesda was a done deal. As part of that discussion with staff, the Director stated that Physical Education requirements would be met by utilizing the Remington Boys & Girls Club (winter/indoor) and Lincoln Park (fall-spring/outdoor).
I asked City Manager Charles B. Strome about this on March 3rd. The City owns both the Remington Boys and Girls Club and Lincoln Park and would need to approve the use of both facilities. Strome is a co-chair of the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee.
Strome said no one from the District had contacted him regarding the proposed move of the Campus School to Bethesda.
On Monday, June 22nd there was an article in the Journal News in which Dr. Feijoo publicly referenced Remington and Lincoln Park. I again asked the City Manager whether anyone from the District had contacted him about the move to Bethesda. His answer was the same as it had been in March: no one from the District had contacted him. The next day I asked him for an on-the-record statement on Feijóo’s statement in the Journal News about the Campus School using .Lincoln Park.
“I have had no discussions with anyone about the use of Lincoln Park,” said City Manager Charles B. Strome.
It is difficult to compare the unequivocal statement of the City Manager — made twice over the past 3 months — and the halting answer Dr. Feijóo gave during the June 23rd meeting and conclude that Dr. Feijóo actually spoke to the City on this topic as she told the school board.
Like her past statements about following CDC guidance in closing schools or distributing hand sanitizer to schools or sending out school election ballots, her public statements are contradicted by the truth. Given this it is difficult to credit any other statements she has made about the proposed move to Bethesda.
The day after the June 23rd meeting, District 3 City Council Member Yadira Ramos-Herbert contacted Strome to express her concerns over the idea that Lincoln Park would be used by the City School District of New Rochelle.
There were a few other questionable statements.
Thurnau said the 2015 Building Condition Surveys were “done in preparation for the $106.5 mm bond”. This is not accurate. The office he ran for many years required every district to complete Building Condition Surveys every five years. It happened to coincide with the Webster ceiling collapse and the desire to bond to make repairs to schools throughout the District but the BCSIs were not completed as preparation for the bond.
Marrero said that Bethesda is “state-endorsed” and “state-approved”. NYSED does not “endorse” properties they issue Certificates of Occupancy. St. Gabes has a Certificate of Occupancy from NYSED. Bethesda has never had a Certificate of Occupancy from NYSED.
Thurnau and others following his lead repeatedly stated St. Gabes was rated “unsatisfactory” in the 2015 BCSI and that the cost to move the St. Gabe’s facilities into an acceptable condition were over two million dollars in 2015 prices ($2.4 million to be precise). He failed to mention that the 2015 BCSI for St. Gabes was not reviewed by the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee as required by his office and that he should not have accepted the St. Gabes BCSI while working at NYSED Facilities Office.
More importantly, he failed to provide important context that in addition to St. Gabes, six District-owned school buildings received Unsatisfactory Ratings and for dollar figures that in some cases dwarf the cost of St. Gabes.
UNSATISFACTORY RATING (2015 BCSI)
- New Rochelle High School $22.1 mm
- Ward Elementary School $7.9 mm
- Columbus Elementary School $6.0 mm
- Jefferson Elementary School $3.7 mm
- Trinity Elementary School $3.4mm
- Webster Elementary School $3.4mm
- St Gabes $2.4 mm
Thurnau failed to mention the millions that went into District-owned schools under the Energy Performance Bond or the costs associated with repairing Webster Elementary School after the ceiling collapse or the cost of bring Holy Family School up to code as the 4 month home of Webster School.
Thurnau claimed that there would be $50,000 in improvements to Bethesda without explaining why taxpayer dollars can be used to fix up Bethesda but not St. Gabes.
Thurnau said St. Gabes is inadequate by comparing the 2015 BCSI at St. Gabes with no similar analysis of Bethesda. He failed to mention any improvements at St. Gabes made by the New York Archdiocese nor did he mention the numerous ADA violations in the parking lot at Bethesda which is space included in the proposed lease with the District or the cost to fix those violations.
The readily visible ADA violations at the Bethesda parking lot include too few handicap parking spots, no van accessible parking spot or lane, the one spot with a handicap parking spot is not properly painted, the wrought-iron gate that opens into the parking lot swings directly into the same spot making the use of the spot impossible. The parking spaces are too small and not properly painted or lined.
There are 34 parking spaces in the parking lot. Thurnau says the District will have 30 parking spaces under the lease. Setting aside that there will be fewer spots if the parking spaces are widened and properly lined, a parking lot must have one handicap parking spot for every 25 spaces. One of those handicap parking spaces must be a van accessible spot with an access lane so there will be a total of no more than 32 available spaces. The church uses two of those spaces to park full size vans and a third to park a maintenance vehicle leaving 29 spaces.
Another 10 spaces are blocked off, 8 taken by employees of Bethesda including musicians, board members and others.
That so many ADA violations are so readily observable on space included in the proposed lease — and that Thurnau never mentioned it nor the cost to repair the parking lot — raises serious questions as to what a knowledgeable, disinterested observer might find inside the building.
ADA issues at St. Gabes totaled $875,000, more than a third of the total costs in the 2015 BCSI, yet a Certificate of Occupancy was issued every year since.
At a local municipal level, if there is a change of use of the building (ie, commercial to school) all outstanding ADA compliance issues would need to be resolved before a Certificate of Occupancy was issued. If a building permit is taken out when there is no change of use 20% of the costs of the work under the building permit must be applied to improving ADA compliance.
NYSED would encourage ADA improvements as part of a large capital construction project.
In other words, unless there is a change of use the ADA work can be done incrementally over time.
Because there is no change of use at either location, the ADA issues need not be corrected. To include them in the cost at St. Gabes but ignore them at Bethesda is fundamentally misleading.
Marrero used the term “shared ranch” to describe St. Gabes as opposed to Bethesda where he claimed the Campus School would have exclusive use of the building and what he called a “sheltered environment”.
He failed to mention that there is nothing in the proposed lease, according to those who have seen the document, that prohibits Bethesda Baptist Church from holding events in the Banquet Hall or using the kitchen for an event. The Bethesda web site indicates there are other events going on during school days including a Food Pantry on Tuesdays and a Prayer Group on Wednesdays.
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