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Rebuilding Albany High School -- FAQs


Frequently Asked Questions about the Feb. 9 proposal for a new Albany High School

Updated January 25, 2016

You also can download these FAQs in .pdf format.

 

If you have additional questions that are not answered in the Q&A below, please e-mail them to Director of Communications Ron Lesko at rlesko@albany.k12.ny.us. Thank you.

 

Q: Where would the school be located?

Albany High School would remain at the same location, 700 Washington Ave.

 

Q: Is the district planning a completely new facility, a renovation of the current facility or a combination of the two?

As with the proposal that voters defeated by 92 votes in November (less than 1 percent of the nearly 13,000 votes cast), the scaled-back proposal voters will consider Feb. 9 calls for a combination of renovations and new construction. New construction would include a second three-story academic building in the first phase, a new classroom building for art, music and foreign language classrooms, and enclosure of the school’s open courtyard later in the project. Enclosing the courtyard would provide additional space inside the school and address safety and security concerns by removing numerous entrances to the building. The new construction would expand the school by about 50 percent, primarily to address 21st-century learning needs, safety and projected enrollment growth; the district anticipates Albany High’s student population will grow from about 2,500 today to 3,000 or more in future years.

 

Renovations would include a complete makeover for the inside of the current three-story academic wing. That would include the addition of career and technical education (CTE) space on the first floor to allow those programs to move onto the main campus from the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away. The renovation of the second and third floors of the current academic building would create true small learning communities (SLCs) and more flexible learning spaces in that section of the building. Renovations also would include complete replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a new roof that the district would hope to complete in time for the 2016-17 school year, updates and a new 200-seat balcony in the current auditorium, and the addition of new space for physical-education classes, including jogging lanes in the main gym.

 

In total, the project would expand Albany High from its current 378,000 square feet (which includes the 60,750-square-foot Abrookin) to approximately 530,000 square feet on one campus.

 

Q: How much will it cost?

The total cost of the proposal that voters will consider Feb. 9 will be $179.9 million. That is $16.1 million less than the November proposal. The district has opted to extend the project over seven years to maximize state aid and minimize the annual tax impact on homeowners.

 

If the scaled-back proposal is approved Feb. 9, Albany taxpayers would pay $62.7 million (35 percent of the total cost). State aid would cover the rest – $117.2 million (65 percent). The impact on homeowners also would be significantly less than in the Nov. 3 proposal.

 

Home value Basic STAR Enhanced STAR
$150,000 $19/year
    $1.58/month or 5 cents/day
    ($42/year in original proposal)
$14/year
    $1.17/month or 4 cents/day
    ($30/year in original proposal)
$200,000 $28/year
    $2.33/month or 8 cents/day
    ($60/year in original proposal)
$22/year
    $1.83/month or 6 cents/day
    ($47/year in original proposal)
$250,000 $36/year
    $3.00/month or 10 cents/day
    ($77/year in original proposal)
$30/year
    $2.50/month or 8 cents/day
    ($64/year in original proposal)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For non-homestead properties, the proposed tax increase ranges from $46-$77 for assessments of $150,000-$250,000. That also represents a reduction of more than half compared to the November proposal.

 

Q: Why is the vote scheduled in February?

There are several reasons for the rebuild vote to be in February instead of the spring or next November. The first is to ensure the roof can be replaced over the summer. Last fall, leaks in the roof had a dramatic impact on student learning and safety. At one point three of the six stair towers in the academic building had to be closed when heavy rain caused flooding. To put it simply, the roofs need to be replaced and it can no longer wait. February was the latest that a vote could be scheduled to ensure the roof could be replaced over the summer if the referendum is successful. 

 

Potential impact on the construction schedule is another important reason the Board of Education planned the vote for February. There are many parts of the construction that can only be done during the summer when staff and students are not in the building. Waiting until the spring or November would push the project to a timeline that would make it difficult or impossible to fully utilize the summers in the projected timeline. That could extend the project further. This would increase costs.

 

Finally, on a project this size, escalation is an important factor. The escalation estimate is up to $1 million a year. A vote in the spring would have added as much as $250,000 to the cost of the project, and a vote in November would add up to $1 million because we would lose a full construction season at that point. It made the most sense fiscally and for our students to look to a February date. We are putting our students' needs first.

 

Q: The total cost of the new proposal is about 8 percent less than the original proposal. How was the district able to lower the proposed tax increase by more than half?

Following the narrow defeat of the original proposal in November, the district and Board of Education endeavored to take into account concerns that residents had expressed before and after the vote. Most of the work that has been eliminated or cut back for the new proposal would have come with very low ratios of state aid – meaning that local taxpayers would have shouldered a higher percentage of the cost for those parts of the project.

 

To reduce the overall cost and potential tax impact of the proposal, the district eliminated a planned new 1,400-seat auditorium and an expansion of the current gym. The new proposal would maintain and renovate the current auditorium and add a 200-seat balcony to bring the total capacity to about 850. The new scaled-back proposal also includes the following reductions:

 

Three of five distance-learning classrooms have been eliminated (two maintained).$2 million in technology expenses. The district would redirect those funds from its district-wide Smart Schools Bond Act allocation to the new high school.$1.5 million in furniture and equipment expenses.Less-expensive flooring materials in hallways.An artificial-turf athletic practice field has been eliminated. This existing practice field in the rear of Albany High would remain grass.

 

While the district and board believed that these elements included in the November proposal would have provided valuable benefits for students, staff and the community for decades to come, we also recognized the community voice in the November “no” vote. The reductions were aimed at addressing concerns about the fiscal impact while also striving to maintain most of the critical educational, programmatic and safety benefits of the original plan.

 

Q: Why is this project necessary for Albany High School?

Doing nothing is not an option for Albany High School any longer. Designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s, the school was poorly designed and poorly constructed. It no longer can meet teaching and learning needs, it is falling apart in many areas and, like many public facilities across the state and nation, it is not safe in today’s world. It is time for a major investment in our city’s public high school to benefit our students and community. There are several primary reasons for this.

  • The 42-year-old building is failing and needs major upgrades and repairs.

    • Temperatures in the academic building this winter once again are fluctuating wildly as the outdated heating system, which has been maintained and repaired continuously throughout the last five decades, no longer can function properly. Temperatures in classrooms this winter have ranged from the 50s and 60s to the 80s and 90s, with some rooms seeing swings like that on the same day.

    • The same temperature-control problems exist in the warmer months due to the failing five-decade-old air conditioning. On the first day of the current school year Sept. 9, the air conditioning failed in many sections of the school, including the academic building. Temperatures in many areas of the building exceeded 80 degrees during several school days. These problems occurred in May 2015 as well during a stretch of hot weather.

    • Trash cans and buckets frequently are positioned throughout the school to catch condensation dripping from the cooling system in the ceilings.

    • In early March 2015, a large section of an exterior wall for the pool collapsed, also exposing major deficiencies in the equipment needed to manage the humidity and air quality in the pool area itself. Although this work is currently being done through a facilities project voters approved in May 2015, it also brought attention to other areas of the building’s brick exterior that are decaying and in need of replacement. These areas of decaying brick pose safety issues as falling bricks could cause injuries; some of these areas are being repaired during the current school year, but many other areas still need to be addressed.

    • Last Sept. 30, a day of very heavy rain, Albany High had to close all three stair towers on the west side of the academic building because the skylights were leaking. Water was flowing down all three stair towers. If the Feb. 9 vote is successful, the district would seek to address these issues immediately with roof replacement this summer. Without approval of the referendum, the roof replacement will not be able to be completed in time for next school year.

The cost of these upgrades and improvements alone would be about $55.7 million, and would not address any of the building’s educational, safety or space needs.

  • The current school cannot accommodate projected student growth.

    • The district predicts enrollment in grades 9-12 will grow from about 2,500 students (about 200 more than at the end of last school year) to 3,000 students or more over the next several years. The proposed new facility would expand the total size of Albany High by about 50 percent to meet the needs of a growing student body in the years to come. If the project is not approved Feb. 9, a major addition will be needed in the coming years to serve the projected enrollment growth.

The cost of this addition currently is estimated at about $45.6 million, and would not address any deficiencies in any other parts of the current school or the remote location of the Abrookin Career and Technical Center.

  •  Major factors driving the district’s student growth include:

    • Student population at the elementary and middle levels has grown significantly in recent years:

      • 28 percent at the elementary level

      • 25 percent at the middle level

    • We already are at capacity in our middle schools and nearly all of our elementary schools also are at or near capacity. To plan for and address this student growth, we have empaneled a Grade Configuration Steering Committee to make recommendations to the Board of Education for a new middle-school or pre-K-through-8 alignment. This work will continue to address these needs in the years to come.

    • Albany High's enrollment also has grown more than 20 percent in the last three years – by nearly 200 just since the end of last school year.

    • Two significant factors in this growth district-wide have been a sharp increase in the number of English-as-a-New-Language (ENL) students (about 25 percent over the last four years to nearly 900 total ENL students district-wide), and the failure of charter schools (five charter schools have closed in the last six years). The city’s two charter high schools (Green Tech for boys and Albany Leadership for girls) also are struggling and face uncertain futures. These two schools combine to educate about 500 Albany students. The closure of one or both of these charter high schools, a possibility given the trend in the closure of underperforming charter school in recent years, would have an immediate and significant impact on the need for additional space at Albany High.

    • The enrollment decline at Bishop Maginn High School also has impacted Albany High. Maginn once educated hundreds of Albany students. However, its total student population in grades 9-12 declined to about 150 students during the 2014-15 school year, forcing a move to a new location in a smaller space. It is estimated that Maginn’s enrollment may continue to decline. Its future currently is uncertain. If Maginn closes at some point in the near future, Albany High would be an option for many families, once again leading to an increase in Albany High’s student body and the need for more space to serve all students appropriately.

  • Albany High is difficult to secure in its current configuration.

    • In this day and age, with shootings and other violent events occurring in schools and other public facilities nationwide, all organizations justifiably are concerned about and re-examining safety and security measures. Albany High School was built in an era when these concerns were not paramount. The school therefore has numerous deficiencies that make safety and security a daily concern.

  • The open courtyard has 11 doors -- significantly more entrances and exits than the building needs or the staff can safely monitor at the heart of the campus.

    • These entrances are not only difficult to monitor and secure with staff and technology during the school day and on nights, weekends and holidays, but the aging nature of the building also makes some doors insecure. Enclosing the courtyard in a bright atrium space would not only enhance the school environment and add additional learning space throughout the school, it also would allow for reduction to two entrances and exits at the heart of the campus – reducing opportunities for an intruder to enter the building.

  • Hallways in large sections of Albany High’s academic building are like a maze.

    • These short, winding hallways create numerous areas that are difficult and costly for the school to manage and control with staff and technology. Students interested in skipping classes often take advantage of these design flaws to avoid hall monitors and other staff. A complete renovation of the current academic building and the construction of a second academic building would allow for better sightlines, fewer areas for students to “hide” when they should be in class and fewer staff necessary to monitor the hallways and ensure a safe, secure learning environment for all students.

  • The location of Abrookin three blocks away creates traffic and other safety concerns for students.

    • Along with the primary academic reasons for moving the career and technical education programs into the main high school building, there also are important safety considerations for this part of the proposal. The fact that 100-200 students cross busy four-lane Washington Avenue every period during the school day for the three-block walk to the Abrookin Career and Technical Center creates dangerous situations on a daily basis for students and motorists alike. Students have been hit crossing Washington Avenue during the school day in recent years. The mornings are especially dangerous with work commuters speeding east on Washington Avenue at the same time that students are being dropped off or walking to school. Students having to walk through a city neighborhood to get to class at Abrookin also creates additional safety concerns. Locating all of Albany High’s CTE programs in the main building for the first time would significantly cut down on the safety risks for our students.

Q: What will be completed in each of the four construction phases?

If voters approve the proposal Feb. 9, construction would begin in the spring of 2018. The main project then would be completed in four phases over seven years, with an additional roofing project undertaken immediately to address the condition of the existing roof and leaks that are being experienced. 

  • Reroofing Phase – The district would strive to replace the existing roof before the start of the 2016-17 school year.

    • Total cost of this initial project: $3 million

  • Phase I – The first phase primarily would consist of the addition of a new academic building at the rear of the school, in what is now the Athletics parking lot.

    • Spring 2018-August 2019

    • Phase I opens for students currently in grades 5-8

    • Total cost of this phase: $42.8 million

 This new wing would include:

  • (43) new general instruction classrooms: ELA, math, social studies, Academic Intervention Services (AIS), English as a New Language (ENL), career

  • (12) new group breakout spaces (enclosed and non-enclosed)

  • (13) new science classrooms

  • (6) new special education classrooms

  • (6) new special education resource rooms

  • (1) new distance learning lab classrooms

  • (3) new computer/technology classrooms

  • (3) small learning community administration suites

  • Phase II – The major focus of this phase would be the enclosure of the courtyard, the addition of a new library/media center and computer classroom, and renovations to the third floor of the existing classroom building.

    • Spring 2019-Spring 2021

    • Phase II opens for students currently in grades 4-7

    • Total cost of this phase: $35.7 million

This phase would include:

  • (22) renovated or new general instruction classrooms: ELA, math, social studies, AIS, ENL, career

  • (5) new group breakout spaces (enclosed and non-enclosed)

  • (10) new science classrooms

  • (2) renovated special education classrooms

  • (2) renovated special education resource rooms

  • (1) new distance learning lab classrooms

  • (1) small learning community administration suites

  • (3) new CTE spaces

  • New Library/Media Center

  • Enclosure of courtyard

  • Phase III – This work would include renovation of the existing auditorium and a 200-seat balcony addition, a new main entry along Washington Avenue, and the addition of a new music and art classroom wing also along Washington Avenue. Additionally, renovations to the existing main gym, supporting gym spaces and the addition of two new gym stations would be completed during this phase.

    • June 2020-June 2022

    • Phase III opens for students currently in grades 2-5

    • Total cost of this phase: $56.4 million

This phase would include:

  • New secure entries

  • Renovated auditorium with addition of 200-seat balcony

  • (6) new art classrooms

  • (5) new music classrooms

  • (6) foreign language classrooms

  • (3) new physical education stations

  • (6) renovated physical education stations

  • New main office and public welcome space

  • New student support space

  • New health suite

  • Phase IV – The focus of this work would be to create two true smaller learning communities (SLCs) on the second and third floors with flexible learning spaces designed to meet student needs in the 21st century, and to create the new career and technical education (CTE) learning space on the first floor. This would allow all of the programs currently located at the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away to move onto the main campus, emphasizing the importance of these college-and-career-readiness opportunities for all students. This work would be completed for the start of the 2024-25 school year.

    • June 2022-August 2024

    • New school completed when students currently in grades K-3 are in high school

    • Total cost of this phase: $42 million

This final phase would include:

  • (4) renovated career/technology classroom spaces

  • (5) renovated business education classrooms

  • (3) renovated special education classrooms

  • (1) renovated special education resource room

  • (21) renovated or new general instruction classrooms: ELA, math, social studies, AIS, ENL, career

  • (6) new group breakout spaces (enclosed and non-enclosed)

  • (2) renovated special education classrooms

  • (2) renovated special education resource rooms

  • (2) renovated computer classrooms

  • (1) small learning community administration suite

Q: Why would construction take seven years?

There are two aspects that impact the construction time for the project. To maximize state aid, the last phase needs to start approximately five years after the first phase. This approach provides for state building aid to cover an additional $32 million of the project cost and helps reduce the overall local share for the entire project to $62.7 million, or just 35 percent of the total cost. The other reason for the construction time is that renovations of the existing building need to be phased so that work can be completed with minimal disruption to daily school operations. 

 

Q: How would such a large construction project be completed while the school continues to function?

With no alternative swing space in the city to accommodate 2,000-3,000 students, Albany High School would continue to operate while under construction. We recognize that this will cause some disruptions and aggravations for students, staff and families throughout the project. To minimize the impact on learning, the project would be completed in four phases over seven years. There are several reasons for this approach, such as addressing programmatic needs and the failing infrastructure. Another primary reason for completing the work in phases is to build new space that will allow relocation of students away from the spaces that will be renovated next. In other words, the approach to safety and to minimizing disruptions in a major project is to separate the school community from the construction to the greatest extent possible.

 

In addition to phasing the project, another aspect of the approach we will take to minimize disruption for the students and staff will be through engineering controls implemented through an in-depth planning process. The State Education Department has strict regulations that must be adhered to that deal with the effects from construction on a school. Effects such as proper egress, noise, dust, separation and air quality are all covered in education law. In addition, requirements pertaining to delivery times, truck routes and staging areas, as well as off-hour and vacation timeframes for demolition and asbestos removal will be pre-planned to minimize disruption. 

 

Q: How does the cost and scope of this proposal compare to other similar school construction projects undertaken in recent years?

The $179.9 million proposed project would be a major investment in the future for the Albany community. It is very much in line with similar projects that have been undertaken in the area and nationally in recent years – and, in fact, is more cost-effective than most considering the number of students that will be served.

 

Projects are often compared to each other regarding cost. Many comparisons are not appropriate as buildings differ in size, program, function, systems, capacity, components, condition and location, as well as many other factors. For a project like ours the correct indicators are:

  • Cost per square foot

  • Cost per student

For example, comparing the cost of a new 2,000-student high school against the cost of a 3,000-student high school is not appropriate as one is larger and has more cost. When one looks at the cost per student and the square foot cost the comparison is normalized. Here are some examples of recent school construction projects in our region:

 

School

Total cost

Total square

Footage

Students

Square foot per student

Albany HS

(proposed)

$179.9 m

530,000

3,000

177

Kingston HS

(construction

started 2015)

$137.5 m

360,000

2,000

180

Taconic (Mass.) HS

(construction

starts 2016)

$120 m

246,520

920

268

Newton (Mass.) HS

(construction completed 2010)

$197 m

412,000

1,750

235

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                   

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few additional examples of comparable projects within the past five years:

  • New York City: $230 million for 2,400 students

  • Atlanta, Ga., where the cost of construction is significantly less than in New York: $147 million for 2,400 students (1,600 currently enrolled

  • Los Angeles built the most expensive high school in the United States -- $578 million for 4,200 students. That’s nearly 200 percent more expensive than Albany’s proposal for just 40 percent more students.

With rapidly growing enrollment, a deteriorating building, and critical educational and safety needs, the district has proposed a school that would serve 3,000 students or more and cost the average Albany homeowner 5 cents a day, the average senior with that same home 4 cents a day.

 

Q: Why are so many systems and structures in such bad shape?

The current Albany High School was poorly planned and poorly constructed. Planning and construction moved forward in fits and starts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Construction actually began in 1970 but was halted that same year due to concerns over rapidly escalating costs. The district, at the time still part of the City of Albany and not yet its own separate entity, went back to work with new architectural and engineering partners on a scaled-back proposal. The building was downsized by a third and construction resumed on the new plan in 1971. The new architect described the work as a “design as you build” concept and a “loose form of construction” meant to save time and money. The exterior of Albany High School was built with a general idea of the interior, and the interior was designed piecemeal as construction moved forward. The result was a modern-looking facility from the outside that had corners cut on the inside.

 

For example, the walls throughout the academic building are metal and not fully sound-proofed. The result is that discussions in neighboring classrooms and in the hallways cause distractions and disruptions for students and teachers. Some classrooms are built with poles in the middle of them, and half of the classrooms have no direct light from outside. The fact that about half of the classrooms receive direct sunlight and half do not contributes to the difficulty in maintaining consistent classroom temperatures throughout the building, especially with the inefficient 42-year-old heating and cooling systems reaching the end of their serviceable lives.

 

In the late 1990s, the district partnered with the community to put together a comprehensive capital facilities plan to upgrade all of its schools, including the high school. However, given the prohibitive costs of including the high school (the high school component of that project was estimated at $200 million at that time), the district decided to omit it from the project and focus all efforts on the elementary and middle schools. The outcome of reconstructing all of the elementary buildings and middle schools following the successful community referendum in December 2001 was very successful. The entire project, completed in 2010 with a total voter-approved budget of about $204 million, was delivered on time and under budget, using quality materials and craftsmanship. 

 

During the mid-2000s, discussions resumed to address Albany High’s facilities needs. The district recognized that many of the school’s systems and structures were aging and in need of major repairs or complete replacement, but with the possibility of a new or significantly renovated high school in discussion district leadership recognized that investing tens of millions of dollars in replacing entire systems would be an unwise investment of taxpayer funds if those systems were scrapped within a few years in favor of a new school.

 

Instead, the district in recent years has invested in repairing and maintaining the aging systems and facilities as best as possible while also making investments to address health and safety issues at the school. Several projects with no impact to taxpayers moved forward in the late 2000s and early 2010s, including the removal of the original carpets throughout the academic building, new ceilings and lighting, renovations to bathrooms and locker rooms, and refurbishment of the courtyard.

 

Q: How will the district ensure that a new school would be properly maintained? 

District staff and the Board of Education Facilities Committee work on an ongoing basis to prioritize the needs of the district’s 20 buildings. An example of this is the $14 million of projects on 14 different buildings overwhelmingly approved by voters in May 2015. Voters have given strong support to other similar smaller projects in recent years, including Albany High School (as noted in the previous Q&A). Additionally, the district regularly inspects all of its buildings and files the necessary reports to the State Education Department. 

 

While the district would like to have all buildings in like-new condition at all times, similar to your home budget it is a function of budgetary decisions and allocations. The district must weigh instructional needs, unfunded mandates and escalations in contractual costs with building needs. At the same time, the tax impact to the community is always front and center. Regardless of annual efforts to maintain the district’s buildings, there will always be a need in an organization of our size – with 20 buildings and 10,000 people in them daily 10 months of the year – for capital projects that can’t be absorbed in annual maintenance budgets.

 

The district also is confident that the thorough and detailed planning process that has been done to date and will continue if the Feb. 9 vote is successful, and high-quality materials and craftsmanship during all phases of construction, the Albany community will be delivered a superior public high school facility that would hold up much better over time than the existing school has.

 

Q: What sustainable and green technologies will be used in the new school? 

The project would utilize high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. During the detailed design phase that would follow a successful referendum, systems would be evaluated that may include geothermal heating and cooling sources.  Photovoltaic systems would be evaluated in the district’s overall planning for this technology, as well as opportunities and incentives available as the project progresses. Exterior wall and roof systems would exceed energy code requirements. Materials would be selected based on long-term durability, low maintenance and sustainable qualities. Although a specific energy model has not been created at this phase in the design process, it is anticipated that the implementation of sustainable technologies would reduce the energy use of the building by 15 percent-20 percent over a building that only meets energy code minimums.

 

Q: How did the district develop the proposal voters will consider Feb. 9?

The original proposal that voters defeated by 92 votes (less than 1 percent of the total votes cast Nov. 3) was the product of more than a decade of discussion about how new facilities would best serve Albany High School students for generations to come. The City School District of Albany began in November 2012 planning for a proposal to rebuild and enlarge the now-42-year-old school. The district's process in partnership with the community included dozens of small- and large-group meetings, an online community survey and numerous public updates at Board of Education meetings throughout the three-year process. Even before that process officially began in late 2012 and early 2013, an ad hoc High School Facilities Advisory Committee studied options for a completely new or renovated Albany High during the winter and spring of 2012. Please visit the Rebuilding Planning Process section of our website for more information.

 

Q: How have current Albany High teachers and staff been involved in the planning process, and would there be opportunities for additional staff input to be factored in if voters approve the proposal Feb. 9?

Representatives of all district instructional departments have been included over the three years of planning that went in to developing the proposal. This resulted in a document called a “Draft Educational Specifications” that provided the parameters for the expanded high school in terms of the number and size of different classrooms. Most of the details of those classrooms have not been determined yet; that work would begin following a successful referendum. If voters approve the project Feb. 9, the design team will be meeting with teachers, administrators and staff to discuss specific needs for building spaces. There will be ample opportunity for input. 

 

Q: Why should the community help pay for a new high school when the district has not been successful in raising student achievement in the new elementary and middle schools built or renovated during the last facilities project?

All children deserve an inviting place for learning. That space should not be predicated on the success that students have previously demonstrated. The most important process in raising student achievement – and a central element in the district’s “2020 Vision” – is to ensure that a caring and highly competent teacher is in every classroom and that each building leader understands the effective strategies involved in making the core process – teacher/student/parent – work in a powerful partnership to change student lives. Buildings do not in and of themselves change the learning process. But school buildings that have (a) creative spaces for learning, (b) spaces for conversations for teams, (c) places for parents to discuss and learn, and (d) places for our community to feel welcomed and valued are vital for the growth and well-being of a child. The new Albany High School would provide those elements for our students, staff and community.

 

We recognize the need and responsibility as a district to do more to accelerate student learning and growth for all of our students. That will always be a main focus for all of our work. However, it also is important to note that it is impossible to accurately measure student progress in the era of mandatory state testing for student in grades 3-8 – essentially the same time period in which our students in those grades have moved into new or completely renovated schools. The state tests have been reconfigured and realigned every 2-3 years for a decade or more, and with each change in the state tests all districts statewide saw declines in student performance.

 

However, Albany High School is showing signs of progress, most directly through an increased graduation rate. The graduation rate for the Class of 2015 was 59 percent. That is the school’s highest graduation rate since 2008 (64 percent) and an increase of 5 percentage points from the Class of 2014 (54 percent). Certainly, there is significant improvement still needed, especially for Albany High’s black and Hispanic students, and students with disabilities. The proposed new facilities would allow the school to provide programs and services that are more personalized and more targeted to our students’ academic and social-emotional needs. They would provide a school environment that supports and enhances the ongoing efforts to improve instruction and student services.

 

Q: How will a new high school improve student results?

As noted in the previous Q&A, Albany High School students are showing signs of early gains in meeting graduation requirements. Daily attendance also has increased in recent years, from the low 80-percent range to the low 90-percent range. The new high school would be organized to support continued growth in both areas.

 

Five distinct smaller learning communities (SLCs) would ensure that students within each have a “home” section of the building that is dedicated to their targeted work in collaboration with district partners. These partners will include career and technical education (CTE), college and university partners, and partners in cutting-edge technology, business, science and medicine. In a new facility designed to meet these needs, all of our students would be able to better interact with our staff and partners to engage in new learning opportunities designed specifically to catapult learning, increase graduation rates and create a structure that allows all students to earn a minimum of six college credits and/or an associate’s degree from our partner institutions at the same time that they are earning their high school diploma.

 

The new facilities also would allow students to have easier access to their teachers and other support staff for assistance during the day, in contrast to the current four-SLC configuration that was retrofitted into the existing school and requires many teachers to be on the move between classrooms throughout the school day.

 

The proposed design incorporates classroom spaces that would encourage collaboration and students leading their learning. This, again, would be in sharp contrast to the current classroom design, which is primarily built to accommodate only desks in rows focused on an instructor at the front of the classroom – a passive learning environment rather than the dynamic, engaging learning environments in our proposed new school. The proposed design also includes common spaces that would allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration and student presentations.

 

Physical-education facilities in the new school would be expanded to meet the space needs for fitness and athletic programming like students will find in the “real world” when they graduate. Adding jogging lanes in the main gym, refurbishing the existing auxiliary spaces and adding new auxiliary spaces would allow for fitness classes, workout spaces and other physical-education opportunities the current athletic facilities cannot accommodate.

 

Albany High’s current art rooms, located in internal classrooms on the first floor, are deprived of natural light and also lack adequate space for display and storage needs. The new school would address those shortcomings through an addition at the front of the building (along Washington Avenue) that would be home primarily to art, music and foreign languages.

 

A key element of the design of the academic areas in the proposed new school is creating true smaller learning communities with adaptable learning areas designed to provide flexibility as teaching and learning methods evolve over time. This will better allow for flexible groupings of students through Response to Intervention (RtI) with tiered academic and social-emotional supports, as one example.

 

The current school, with all of its deteriorating systems and drab, unimaginative learning spaces, often fails to inspire creativity, collegiality and enthusiasm among students, staff or families. It is the type of school where people have to be, not where people want to be. The lack of natural light throughout large portions of the academic building is a subtle yet important design failing of the current facility. Providing natural light in all learning spaces is an important design element in the proposed new school, and research has demonstrated that this factor alone can lead to significant improvement in student outcomes. This would help create a more positive outlook and attitude for all and contribute to building a more positive school culture and climate that ultimately will benefit all students.

 

Q: Why can’t the current high school support the district’s academic goals?

Our current academic goals are to provide more rigorous instruction for all of our students so they are career and college ready. This requires students to be engaged and connected to what is being taught, and to have access to classroom spaces that support 21st-century learning skills: collaborative work, project-based learning, integration of technology, etc. Our current building design will not allow us to fully achieve these important programmatic goals. The current layout physically restricts our students from connecting to a smaller learning community when they have to move throughout the building to take advantage of various offerings that can only be found in certain sections of the building (science classes, for example).

 

Our classrooms vary in size and the space may or may not be available to effectively implement 21st-centrury learning techniques. Some science classes are taught in classrooms that meet only the bare minimum science instructional requirement of having a sink, not the full facilities students need and deserve. Teachers often will have to reserve a computer lab or specialty room like the United Nations Room to teach certain lessons. Ideally, we want students to have everything they need in close proximity within their own smaller learning community or academy to assist with being connected to school, allowing them to build stronger relationships with teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. The significant growth in recent years of our population of English-language learners – and the anticipated continued growth of this student group as more refugee families settle in Albany – also requires additional space for our staff to provide sheltered instruction and the support these students need to succeed.

 

Q: What steps or programs has the district put in place that show promise for helping to raise achievement for Albany High students and could be preserved in a new high school?

We are using a rigorous curriculum design process to develop a curriculum that encompasses the instructional strategies we have been training teachers in over the last two years: differentiated instruction, project-based learning, ASPIRE Strategies for Special Education students, AVID strategies to assist students with college-readiness, sheltered instruction protocols to support our English-language learners. We have also implemented an online unit/credit recovery program called APEX. We began implementing rigorous and relevant professional development for our teachers and building leaders beginning in 2013, and those efforts will continue. All principals district-wide are participating in learning walks to develop a common understanding of and expectations for excellent instruction. We have put in a place a system of studio classrooms to help elementary and middle-school teachers develop culturally relevant skills as we attempt to engage all of our teachers over time and build the capacity to embed this training in our annual professional development work led by district staff. At the high school, our staff members are aligning curriculum with the Common Core Learning Standards. At all levels, our instructional coaches also are actively engaged with teachers in helping them more effectively lead all students toward success.

 

Q: Will the new high school have the same academies, will academies or smaller learning communities (SLCs) be maintained in a different structure, or will the entire SLC structure be abandoned?

The design of the proposed new high school incorporates five SLCs and a sixth learning community for enhanced career and technical education opportunities (the programs currently located at the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away from Albany High). If the vote is successful Feb. 9, specific configurations or themes would be determined over the next several years for the SLCs – three in a new academic wing and two in the current academic building.

 

Since implementing the four themed SLCs at Albany High in 2011-12, we have made significant gains in ensuring that every student has theme-based experiences in their courses. We are beginning to see students become more engaged, which is a key component for student learning. As mentioned in response to a previous question above, the current physical layout of the building interferes with effective development and design of SLCs. However, we believe that SLCs, as the concept continues to develop and grow, will be critical to the design of our secondary program in the years to come.

 

In a large comprehensive high school, anonymity can erode or interfere with a student’s connection to education. Optimally designed and implemented SLCs can help avoid that and allow all students to develop the adult connections they need to be successful. Time and our students' needs and interests will tell if the SLCs will remain theme-based or if they will evolve into another format, such as learning-style-based or career-driven, or if the future structure of Albany High will include an upper- and lower-school configuration to provide more support for students in their first two years and more diverse opportunities both at school and in other academic and career-related settings for older students.

 

Q: If the new high school does have academies, will they be different to help achieve better results for our students?

The smaller learning communities, or SLCs, will continue to develop and utilize the best instructional strategies to engage students in rigorous and relevant curriculum that will prepare them for their post-secondary goals.

 

Q: Will career and technical education (CTE) be part of a new high school? Will CTE become one of the academies?

As stated previously, the development and better integration of career and technical education is critical to the future of Albany High School. Moving CTE onto the main campus is a critical element in our plan for the new Albany High so that those programs, currently three blocks away at Abrookin, become central to the fabric of the school for all students. All of our students, whether by earning certificates or college credit, will participate in CTE education in some fashion. This may include current traditional careers, but must also include high-wage technical positions to support the growing technology evolution in the Capital Region. CTE in our school district must be broadened to ensure access for all students in all smaller learning communities. The proposed design incorporates significant space for CTE on the first floor of the current academic building, not at a satellite facility several blocks away.

 

Our strategic partners throughout the community are poised to work with us to ensure that all of our students have access to a powerful learning system grades 6-12 so that our students gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities to attain meaningful employment immediately following graduation and gain acceptance to two- and four-year colleges and universities. Incorporating CTE as a primary focus within Albany High School for all students is vital to this proposed investment in our future.

 

Q: Would students have opportunities to be involved in the construction process? Are there other ways the construction project would be educational?

Turner Construction would incorporate its Youthforce 2020 program in the district during the project. Youthforce 2020 is an eight-week course that provides an introduction to all aspects of construction. For more than 10 years, CSArch has hosted interns from Albany High School, giving them an introduction to the fields of architecture and engineering. One of those interns has become a summer employee of the firm while he pursues an education in architecture and has participated in design work that has been done on the project so far. CSArch will continue to host interns from Albany High and make the high school project part of the learning experience with the firm. Both Turner and CSArch would work with the high school administration to explore other educational opportunities to use the design and construction of the high school in the school’s curriculum.

 

Q: How much would my taxes go down if the district does not invest in fixing, expanding or rebuilding Albany High?

If no work is completed on the high school for the next 30 years, taxes would drop by $146 on a home assessed at $150,000 and $206 on a home assessed at $200,000. However, this is not a reasonable expectation since the school is in need of more than $100 million of work just to update it and expand it to meet enrollment projections, investments that would not take into account educational, programmatic or safety needs.

 

Q: Are there alternatives to the project that is proposed?

Doing nothing is not an option for Albany High School, so, yes, there are alternatives to the proposed renovation and construction project. However, the cost of necessary upgrades and repairs would be about $55.7 million, and the cost of an addition to serve the anticipated growth in student population would be an additional $45.6 million by today’s estimates. These investments, totaling more than $100 million, would not address the location of the career and technical education programs three blocks away at Abrookin, the primary safety and security concerns created by the open courtyard and hidden hallways, or the inadequate classroom and learning spaces in the main academic building. It would allow Albany High to continue on status quo, which the district does not see as a viable option if we are to meet our goals of significantly increasing student success and Albany High’s graduation rate. It is not the level of investment we believe our students and community deserve for the future.

 

Q: What happens if the Feb. 9 referendum is unsuccessful?

The Board of Education would have to decide next steps. However, a second “no” vote would send a clear message that the community is not prepared to invest in the future of Albany High School at this time. The board could decide to forego a single facilities project and handle the building’s repair and space needs piecemeal over time. This would be a more expensive option in the long run, and also would be a vastly inferior option in terms of meeting the academic and support needs of our students and our community into the future.

 

 

 

 

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