Cost concerns about renovating School No. 16


It took many months for residents and parents in the 19th Ward to convince Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to save School No. 16 — the school is closed until renovations can be done. And they got Vargas to include No. 16 in the second phase of the district's massive $1.2 billion school building modernization plan. (Vargas has promised to reopen the school in 2018.)

But the high cost of renovating the school — the reason that Vargas initially wanted to close No. 16 — has again become a concern. SWBR Architects recently presented the board with several renovation options, ranging from $20 million to $29 million.

Those estimates are lower than what the district has spent to renovate other schools, but the problem is that the State Education Department will only reimburse the district for about $12 million of the work. And this is while the district is staring at a $40.5 million budget gap. 

Rochester school member Willa Powell says that concerns about the renovation costs are legitimate. But Vargas and the board have to find the money, she says, because a commitment was made to the community to keep School 16 open.

“The board’s answer is to find a way to do it so we have a neighborhood school in that area,” she says. “Are we prepared to make the same mistake we’ve made before by leaving a neighborhood without a school? No.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation authorizing the $425 million second phase of the schools modernization program. More than two-dozen schools are included in this phase.