Members of the Westbury community gathered at Westbury Middle School last week to hear more about the district’s $172.6 million bond to fund work throughout the district, including the construction of a new middle school to replace the current one that the administration is saying is “too far gone” to repair.
David Zimbler, principal of Westbury Middle School, hosted a public tour of the Rockland Street building for community members to help illustrate how desperately in disrepair the facility, originally constructed in 1934, has become in recent years.
“It’s a very old building, and the infrastructure is one of our biggest concerns,” Zimbler said. “There’s cinder that’s broken and damaged, staircases and floors that are cracking, heating and cooling units that are completely burnt out, boilers that leak, science rooms where the sinks and Bunsen burners don’t work, and the whole roof needs to be replaced. The people really need to see these conditions that their children are in.”
Another issue that kids in the middle school are facing, Zimbler noted, is overcrowding. The recent influx of new students has produced conditions that are incongruent to an effective education, he said.
“Our classrooms are above capacity…the desks are so far up that the children are actually face-to-face with the blackboard,” he said. “The flow of traffic in the hallways looks like Grand Central Station, and children kneeling to get into their locker are often stepped on because there’s no room to move. We actually have one-way hallways and stairways because they’re too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic. We’ve even had to introduce extra lunch periods because the cafeteria is too small.”
Seventy-six cents of each dollar of the proposed $130 million bond would come from the State Education Department, leaving community taxpayers to shoulder the remaining 24 percent, Zimbler said. In addition to constructing a new middle school—a four to five year process, after which the current building would be demolished—the bond would also be used to fund other improvement projects throughout the district.
A number of concerned locals turned out for the tour. Westbury resident Gary Spinello recognized that there are indeed problems with the middle school building, but said there were more important issues to attend to before the public should sign off on a 30-year bond that stands to raise their already-high tax bills.
“We certainly want to help the kids, but we have to address the performance issues first,” he said. “Westbury is a low-performing district, so we should address that first before building a new school and raising taxes. A new building isn’t going to solve the performance issues.”
Mattye Williams is an older woman living on a fixed income, and she also expressed concern over the tax raise the bond would create.
“I figured that I would come tonight to get the information first-hand and see what they are proposing,” she said. “As I see it right now, too much of the burden is going to be put on the older people with low incomes like me.”
Zimbler escorted the assembled faculty and community members throughout the middle school, and the warts of the crumbling building were laid bare for all to see—cracks in walls large enough to see outside; a roof desperately in need of replacement producing puddles throughout the building due to the evening’s rainfall; and basement storerooms converted into crowded, makeshift classrooms, complete with wooden escape ladders in the event of an emergency.
The unfortunate realities that the tour cast light upon were enough that even many naysayers conceded the administration’s point that something needs to be done. Spinello said that his skepticism over the project had abated somewhat, although he expressed concern over how things had gotten so bad to begin with.
“There are issues with all the cracks and damage, and the overcrowding is certainly a big problem and that has to be addressed,” he said. “But the big issue to me is the maintenance…this is not a well-managed building, and these issues should have been addressed long ago. Are we going to build a new building and hand it over to these same people?”
According to Richard Wiedersum, an architect hired by the district, the proposed new middle school would be larger than its predecessor—170,000 square feet compared to the current building’s 150,000—and more efficiently laid out to maximize use of available space. It would also feature a larger auditorium, lunchroom, more classrooms, and would adhere to many cutting-edge, energy efficient design principles.
Currently, there is no date set for the public vote needed to approve the bond; however, Zimbler noted that the administration wants to educate residents as much as possible on the conditions middle school students deal with on a day-to-day basis before giving them the opportunity to decide on the bond’s fate. There is an informational bond meeting slated for Saturday, Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. at the middle school.
“We are planning on holding additional tours of the middle school for concerned parents and taxpayers, including ones set during normal school hours so the overcrowding can be seen first-hand,” he said. “No other school on Long Island has had this degree of growth, and space and infrastructure are our main concerns. We need more rooms and more space.”