The Rye City Board of Education says it was forced to postpone its planned discussion and vote to bring a to ballot on December 6 after receiving a letter from the City of Rye raising concerns about the impact on traffic from an upgrade of classroom space at the .
Rye City School Board President Laura Slack said the delay will make it impossible for the bond to make the ballot by December 6 and could delay the Fall 2014 completion of the project she says is sorely needed to meet future space demands at the facility.
"The kids will be here whether there is an addition or not, the children are coming whether on foot or on bikes or in cars," said Slack.
Slack said current conditions at the high school are already at "crisis level." The high school is currently at 104 percent capacity and will need 16 additional classrooms by 2014 to accommodate larger numbers of anticipated students.
Reached by email Tuesday night, Mayor Doug French disagreed that the issues raised in the letter would delay the project. He wrote: "The City has no objection to the BOE closing out the environmental review and completing the bond proposal -- and we conveyed such. There are potential concerns around traffic, parking and pedestrian safety that were raised, and we have asked the Board to consider these as the project moves forward. We look forward to working with them."
Slack said the board decided it could not vote to close the state required SEQR process affirming there will be no negative impact because of the project or decide upon a date to schedule the bond resolution for ballot until they responded to the issues outlined in the letter.
Because they did not vote on an election date Tuesday, it will not be possible to hold the election on December 6. Such an election must be scheduled at least 45 days after the board votes, Slack said.
The school board must table the issue until they confer with their environmental consultant and respond to the letter, she said.
Former board president and council candidate Josh Nathan said the timing of the letter and the time necessary to respond "may delay the project by an entire year." Time that Nathan said would have a negative impact on students.
"It's a crying shame that puts them at risk," said Nathan. "The economy had already slowed down this much needed project and now we must get it done."
Nathan said better communication between the city and board could have addressed any issues before this point in the process.
Slack said she met with Mayor Doug French and City Manager Scott Pickup on Tuesday, October 3 and neither of them conveyed any of the concerns contained in the letter which was received on Friday, October 7 at the Rye City school district offices. Because of the Columbus Day holiday, the correspondence was brought to the attention of the board on Tuesday and they discussed it before the meeting.
During executive session, the board decided the letter sent by the city manager raised issues substantive enough that a response will require the advice of their environmental consultant.
Reached by email Tuesday night, Rye City Councilman Joe Sack said concerns about the impact the high school project would have on traffic had been previously discussed by the council, but said he had no knowledge of the letter sent by the city manager last Thursday.
Also reached by email, Councilwoman Paula Gamache directed questions about the letter to city manager Scott Pickup and city planner Christian Miller, she characterized the letter as "thoughtful and thorough."
In the letter, which Slack said will be posted on the district website as soon as possible but did not make available on Tuesday night, concerns were raised about the impact the proposed expansion woud have on traffic.
The school board cannot fulfill its state-required environmental impact review without responding to the letter. Therefore, Slack said the scheduled discussion of the bond resolution and school board vote to set December 6 for public vote had to be taken off the Tuesday meeting agenda.
Editor's note: A link to the letter, posted on the Rye City Schools website Wednesday, has been added to this story.