Gov. Cuomo Signs $2 Billion Yonkers School Construction Bill

John Jordan | October 2016

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano pressed area business and construction trade organizations to support the “Building Yonkers Schools” initiative. As this photo taken in May shows, students were definitely behind the program. FILE PHOTO

YONKERS—Just months after Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano launched the “Rebuild Yonkers Schools” campaign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30 signed the New York State legislation that will allow the City of Yonkers to start the process to repair and rebuild the school district’s 39 schools.

“The governor’s signing of this act signifies our State’s and City’s commitment to our schools and to the thousands of students in the Yonkers Public Schools whose education will benefit from modern, healthy learning environments,” said Mayor Spano. “Thank you to Governor Cuomo, our Yonkers state delegation, our Yonkers Board of Education and all our local advocates for lending their voices in making this first step possible. Now we have a strong foundation to start the next phase of the process, which should include state reimbursements to fund the project.”

The signed legislation creates the Yonkers Joint Schools Construction Board, which can bond for the cost of construction. Yet to be ironed out is the funding for the program, estimated at $2 billion. Moving forward, Mayor Spano will continue to advocate in Albany for the state reimbursement needed to fund the rebuilding of Yonkers Public Schools. The legislation passed by the State Legislature in June, according to a spokesman for the mayor, did not include a reimbursement rate.

In the next session of the State Legislature, Yonkers officials will be lobbying state lawmakers to approve a 98-percent state reimbursement rate, which would be on par with other upstate cities Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo that have undertaken similar school reconstructions.

“On behalf of the children of Yonkers the Trustees look forward to working collaboratively with the Mayor, the City Council, and our state delegation on this project,” said Yonkers Board of Education President Rev. Steve Lopez. “Rebuilding the school district’s infrastructure is critical for our students to be able to achieve at high levels and across content areas including the arts and technology. We are grateful for today’s signing by Governor Cuomo and we must continue to work towards sustaining these efforts over the next decade or more. It is the most significant step towards the Trustees ultimate goal to provide the environment and the academic supports for all Yonkers children to achieve and receive a sterling education.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edwin M. Quezada added, “This bill helps us begin to address the growing needs of our traditionally underserved special education students and English language learners. Teaching and learning thrives in well-equipped, technology enriched schools with instructional space for every content area. It also allows Yonkers to expand the community school model in addition facilities benefiting our children and families. Today, Governor Cuomo opened the school doors for our students to succeed; let’s continue to work together to sustain the work.”

“Now that the Governor has signed this bill into law, we have a strong foundation from which we can address the rebuilding of Yonkers schools,” said State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “This is the onset of a long journey, but now that a functional framework is in place, we can all come together–our partners in government and stakeholders–to commence the process of restoring these schools for the sake of our children.”

The city’s proposal is to rebuild all 39 existing public schools and build three new schools in Yonkers over the course of four phases and 13 years. The average age of Yonkers Public Schools is 75 years old with many as old as 100 years old, making them some of the oldest in New York State.

The Yonkers school district is also one of two districts in New York with a growing enrollment teaching 27,000 students, which is currently 4,500 seats over capacity. As a result, students are being taught in spaces that were never intended to serve as classrooms such as basements, libraries and auditoriums. Alternate classroom accommodations including annexes and mobile trailers also have become overcrowded, city officials noted.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly in both houses. The Assembly approved the measure by a 137-2 while the Senate adopted the proposal unanimously in a 62-0 vote in June.

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth