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Westfield School Board Okays Renovations to District's Administration Building on Elm St.


by Anna Murray for The Westfield Leader, 01/23/97

At Tuesday evening's public meeting of the Westfield Board of Education, Facilities Committee Chairwoman Darielle M. Walsh presented committee recommendations for the renovation and upgrade of the Elm Street administration facility. The board approved these recommendations by a 7-1 count, with Vice Chairman John M. Toriello as the lone dissenting vote.

The 81 year-old building is classified as being in good condition and currently houses all the district administrative offices as well as a maintenance garage. However, because the Elm Street School was built in 1914, it is not a code compliant, handicapped-accessible building.

M. Disko Engineering, a company contracted to provide professional expertise to the district, estimated the cost of bringing the building up to code and safety standards to be $550,000. Disko has also recommended restoration and repairs to the building that would include sidewalks, entrance, foundation and fire control detectors at an additional cost of $465,OOO. The Disko recommendations also included an estimate to provide a suitable community meeting room in the existing auditorium for $280,000.

The former Lincoln School, located at 728 Westfield Avenue and currently utilized by the Union County Educational Services Commission, was rejected as a possible relocation site for the administrative offices. "There are several objections to moving the board's administrative offices from Elm Street to the Lincoln School site," said Mrs. Walsh. "An estimated investment of $1.57 million for necessary alterations is required," according to the Disko report. "Since the Lincoln site does not have a maintenance facility, one would have to be constructed, causing possible resistance from area residents. Moving and relocation expenses are estimated at an additional $98,000.

Recommendation of the Facilities Committee was approved to make necessary renovations to the Elm Street building and provide approval and authorization to the administration to prepare specific plans for bids to address code and safety requirements, building repairs, renovations and improvements.

The Finance Committee has been asked to prepare a report by Tuesday, February 25, detailing how expenses for the renovations will be funded. The Facilities Committee put forth a recommendation that the Lincoln School be sold to fund the renovations at Elm Street. The 1996 appraised value of Lincoln School was $ 1.1 million. Currently, the facility is rented to the Union County Educational Services through June of 1998. Although the board receives $122,000 annually in rent, projected operating and maintenance costs will result in a $28,000 drain to the budget yearly for the next 20 years, officials indicated.

The final decision will now go to the Finance Committee, including the recommendation on how to pay for the renovations to the Elm Street building.

Commenting from the audience was Alice Hunnicutt who said, "I applaud your efforts to refurbish the building. The community and future employees will benefit from improved accessibility to the facility."

Earlier in the evening, Darlene Nowak, Director of Technology for the Westfield public schools, presented a detailed report evaluating the use of Dream Writers in the elementary schools. The Dream Writer is a small laptop device used as a word processing tool, calculator, world clock and calendar. According to Ms. Nowak, the Dream Writer fits the district's needs for increased computer access at the elementary level while dealing with space and electricity constraints.

One hundred and forty elementary school teachers have been trained in the use of the Dream Writer, mostly during summer months. Ms. Nowak's report indicated that after four months, 390 lesson plans incorporating the devices were presented to district students. In follow-up sessions with teachers, Ms. Nowak has received positive comments on the use of Dream Writers. "Teachers have reported that when students use the Dream Writer they have a high rate of success immediately and are therefore motivated to continue. Both students and teachers find relief on how quickly projects can be completed. Everyone can write and print in the same day, allowing time for editing and sharing," she said.

Other positive indicators on the impact Dream Writers have had are increased skill levels in keyboarding and increased length of first draft writing issues from students. According to Ms. Nowak, the significance of a longer first draft is that a child has "more ideas on paper and more clay to work with in the revision process."

Teachers have also reported that the Dream Writer gives students a chance to exercise "real-world" problem solving skills. They are learning how to save reports, the vocabulary of the computer and different computer functions that challenge adults every day.

Despite the success of the Dream Writer there are some challenges that will be addressed by administrators, principals and Ms. Nowak. Introducing an entire school community to the devices in one semester was a challenge," said Ms. Nowak. "We will need to devise a plan to help early grade teachers introduce the device to their classes and paraprofessionals to help younger students become comfortable with the keyboard." Currently, only 30 Dream Writers per school are available.

Later in the evening, the board approved a resolution to appoint Andrea Kahn of the Law firm McManiman & Scotland to provide specialized legal services necessary in connection with the financing of school building programs and the issuance or sale of temporary notes or bonds. The board action is related to the possible technology bond referendum presently under board consideration.

Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Thomas P. Madaras announced that on Thursday, January 30, the public is invited to attend a working meeting where the committee and six Parent-Teacher Organization representatives will discuss redistricting. No formal plans are presently slated for discussion. The meeting will be held in the Elm Street meeting room at 8:30 p.m.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader.
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