A trade school? A museum? An incubator for start-up businesses?
When asked how the West Hempstead school district could best utilize the soon-to-be-vacant school building it owns on after next year, these were just some of the many suggestions made by community members.
West Hempstead residents, school officials, Board of Education trustees and leaders of local organizations participated in Tuesday night's kick-off meeting of the West Hempstead Space Utilization Committee. The group, which is open to all community members, is tasked with coming up with a plan that will be presented to the school board in late October regarding what to do with two substantial pieces of real estate the district owns.
There's the 9,783 sq. ft. space at the Chestnut Street School, which had served as a library but not remains vacant, and the 51,155 sq. ft. school building on Eagle Avenue, once the Marion Delaney School, which Nassau BOCES has been leasing from the West Hempstead school district since 1991. (Due to declining enrollment, BOCES is not renewing its lease beyond the 2012-2013 school year.)
Not only will the former Marion Delaney building be without a tenant come June 30, 2013, but the West Hempstead school district will also experience a major loss in revenue (1.5 percent in taxes) if it doesn't find a replacement. (In 2012, Nassau BOCES paid $582,283 to rent the building.)
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Superintendent John Hogan said a few groups have expressed interest in the building on Eagle Avenue, including one looking to open a museum. (At a , the director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Tanglewood Preserve mentioned that she was scouting locations in the area for Long Island's first museum of natural history.) The district has also been contacted by brokers offering to market the building, for a price. But first the community needs to decide if it will sell the building, lease it or use it for an internal purpose.
Rosalie Norton, president of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, cautioned the district about selling off the property without making sure it won't need it in the future. Norton had sat on the school board when the trustees made the difficult decision to shut down Marion Delaney due to the district's declining enrollment, but she explained that demographics are cyclical and in the future, there could be an influx of families with school-age children moving into the area.
"If you sell that building where [else] will you recoup the space in West Hempstead?" she asked.
Hogan agreed it was something to consider, saying he's seen districts sell off a building and then down the road, they end up needing it.
If West Hempstead's enrollment did rise, it does have about a dozen empty classrooms at Chestnut Street School. West Hempstead High School, which had originally been designed to have four floors, could be built up but its other buildings could not.
Norton also pointed out that maintaining the 4 acres of sports fields on the Marion Delaney property has also always been a concern of the school district as these are vital to local youth leagues.
"I would caution us to think very carefully of what we'll need down the road,” said Irene Martinez, a mother of two West Hempstead students. “If we don't maintain the property, there will come a point of where we can't use it."
Martinez, a graduate of Sewanhaka High School, which has its own successful technical school, was supportive of an idea expressed by Trustee Cynthia DiMiceli to open up a similar one in Marion Delaney to teach job skills to West Hempstead students and out-of-district students, who would pay tuition.
"It would have to be self-sustaining," Hogan said.
This would also be the case if the district opened up an after-school program, Regents Prep Center or a Pre-School, other recommendations made by residents.
If the district were to move public school students into the Eagle Avenue building, which contains 25 small classrooms, it would need to make the building ADA compliant (accessible for those with disabilities), which can be costly.
Cunningham said he’d looking into the costs of retro-fitting, and per the request of residents, how much it would cost just to maintain the building vacant or demolish it.
Other suggestions made throughout the night were to lease the building to North Shore LIJ Health Systems, or to some of the local colleges or schools looking for satellite locations.
One resident said the building could be perfect for start-up companies, which need a small space but then quickly outgrow it. School Board President Walter Ejnes said he would reach out to his contacts in the NYS Conference of Economic Development to see if there is a need for "start-up incubators" like this.
Hogan stated that if the building was rented or sold to a commercial business, it would have to fit with the character of the neighborhood.
Norton also said the district should be open to renting the building in parts if it can not find a single renter for the whole building.
Overall, the district was pleased with the meeting and ideas presented.
"We're in imagination mode right now, which is good," Cunningham said. "That's how we get to solutions."
The Space Utilization Committee will be meeting five more times:
- Aug. 14: To discuss a demographics and enrollment study recently conducted for the district.
- Aug. 28: To tour Chestnut Street School and Marion Delaney.
- Sept. 25: To hold a work session.
- Oct. 2: To hold a work sesson.
- Oct. 23: To finalize a plan to present to the school board.
All meetings start at 7:30 p.m. inside West Hempstead High School unless otherwise noted.
How do you think the district should utilize the soon-to-be vacant Marion Delaney (Eagle Avenue) School building? Tell us in the comments section below.