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Roosevelt to seek $40M more for school renovations

Roosevelt High School (Jan. 19, 2010)

Roosevelt High School (Jan. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Karen Wiles Stabile

Faced with construction cost overruns, the Roosevelt school board agreed unanimously last night to ask voters for an additional $40.5 million to renovate their aging high school.

A referendum will be held March 18 on the added expenditure.

The state-run district's managers say extra money is essential to complete the physical transformation of the system, which has already rebuilt three elementary schools and constructed a new middle school.

In addition to its physical makeover, Roosevelt High School also could be headed for dramatic changes in management and academic approach due to low achievement, under a plan outlined Thursday by the state.

On the construction front, all work completed so far was financed by a $205-million bond issue approved by Roosevelt residents in June 2004. State and local authorities say that 98 percent of newly proposed renovation costs should be covered by state aid, and that residents as a result should face little or no tax increase.

"This will be a complete turnaround," said Frank Scott, a Roosevelt school board trustee. He added that local teens would benefit from the renovated school's "high tech" facilities.

Still, the referendum could prove a tough sell. Many residents who had warned in 2004 that rebuilding Roosevelt schools would prove more expensive than planned remain skeptical.

"See, I have a long memory - I'm totally against it," said Diana Coleman, a longtime Roosevelt resident and civic activist.

In a phone interview Thursday, Carl Thurnau, director of physical facilities for the state Education Department, said high school renovations are expected to cost $67 million overall. That would include $40 million from the new referendum, and $27 million left over from the original bond issue.

If approved by voters, the high school project would include a complete makeover of the building's interior, an expanded library, a second gym and new science labs, Thurnau added. He went on to list several reasons why the extra money was needed.

For starters, a pollution cleanup at the site of Roosevelt's new middle school cost $16 million that was not included in original estimates. Also not included was construction of a new roof for the high school, which is now under way. Moreover, construction costs have risen since 2004, Thurnau said.

In a related development, state education officials confirmed Thursday that Roosevelt High School is included in a new agency list of 57 "persistently lowest achieving" schools statewide. Those schools qualify for federal grants of $500,000 apiece, but may also face tougher academic sanctions if they don't raise English and math scores. President Barack Obama's administration has developed four types of penalties that could be applied to such schools, including changes of principals and conversion to charter schools.

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