Batavia school district outlines master facilities plan at first community engagement session

Parents of students in Batavia Public School District 101 got their first look at the district’s sweeping “Building Our Future Together” master facilities plan at the Feb. 1 community engagement session at Batavia High School.

The session, titled “Where We’ve Been, Where We Are and Where We Are Headed,” centered on a general overview of the district’s facilities and planned improvements.

“The challenges that we face can be categorized into two types; functional and operational,” said Chief Financial Officer Anton Inglese. “Functional in terms of facilities, support, learning and educational programs, and operational in terms of logistics in the way students and teachers and families use those spaces apart from academics, and how we maintain them and how we improve them overtime.”

Part of the plan would involve the replacement of the district’s four oldest elementary school buildings, including H.C. Storm Elementary, according to the district’s master facilities plan website.

“H.C. Storm School was built in 1978,” Inglese said. “Car and bus and pedestrian traffic all intersect in one spot. If you live in that neighborhood or you’re a parent who picks up their child, it’s chaos.”

Issues with traffic congestion were one of many problems with H.C. Storm School pointed out by Inglese. Other issues included aging the aging roof windows, doors, and the fact that the front entrance did not lead to the front office, which was a safety concern.

Replacing H.C. Storm School’s roof would cost $2 million, Inglese said.

“In the meantime, we know that how we teach and learn has changed,” he said. “We’re working on a plan to see how we use space, and how all these things fit together. We’re talking about new standards for safety and security, and it’s not that [H.C. Storm School] is unsafe, it’s just not ideal. Because it’s not ideal, we work constantly to overcome the limitations of that space.”

In 2018, BPS 101 hired the DLR Group architecture firm to assist in developing the master facilities plan, according to the BPS 101 website.

“These buildings are supposed to last into the future,” said DLR Group Project Manager Keri VanSant. “We know our teachers are doing great things to adapt spaces, but a lot of times they’re doing way more to adapt those spaces than they should need to.”

DLR Group assessed the buildings through specific factors such as facility condition, energy usage and educational adequacy.

“If you only look at one lens, only look at the facility conditions, you don’t get the big picture,” VanSant said. “You understand what’s currently ailing the building, what needs to be maintained, what’s failing, what might need slight improvements, but without understanding the educational adequacy, how buildings need to flex and learn, how they need proper power and technology to support the activities that are happening in the classroom.”

Based on their research, DLR group recommended that new school facilities should emphasize safety, accessibility and adaptability, VanSant said.

“We also learned through the facilitating process that the district should keep the single high school structure [and] keep the single middle school structure,” VanSant said.

The Feb. 1 meeting was the first of five community engagement sessions meant to gather feedback on the master facilities plan, with each session focusing on a different topic, according to community engagement sessions co-chair Brian Schwab.

“We know there’s a lot of information to cover and learn about the schools,” Schwab said at the meetings. “Current conditions, the facilities, and all the things that we’re going to be going through. And at each session we’re going to be learning more about the details of these particular topics.”

“We have a very exciting opportunity in Batavia to improve our facilities with minimal impact to taxpayers,” said Superintendent Lisa Hichens. “We’re in a unique position where we can invest in our facilities without increasing the district’s bond and interest tax levy.”

Following the presentations, attendees were put into small groups and asked to discuss their biggest surprises and concerns from the presentations, as well as any questions that they had about facilities plan.

“As far as concerns, a lot of people said that ‘we have concerns that the boundaries will be moved or that we’ll close schools,” Hichens said after the meeting. “People had concerns about their own students and where there’ll be attending school in the future. With the plan that’s on our website right now, there wouldn’t be any.”

The “Building Our Future Together” facilitating team, which is comprised of community members, parents and district staff, began in December of 2021, said Kelly Bleakly, co-chair of the community engagement sessions.

“I want to emphasize that this is a program that is community centered,” Bleakly said. “The ‘Building Our Future’ team is built by community members, so it can lay out the foundation for a truly collaborative conversation between our community members and our school district.

“While this team is responsible for putting the program together, it is important to note that feedback about the facility plan through community engagement sessions just like this one, is crucial for the decision-making process,” she said.

Hichens said the financial side of the plan will be discussed in more detail at the next community engagement session on Feb. 24.