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Re-Imagining Albany High School -- FAQs

Investing in our students. Investing in our community. Investing in our future.


Frequently Asked Questions about the proposal for a new Albany High School

Updated October 2015

You also can download these FAQs in .pdf format.

 

Q: Where would the school be located?

Albany High School would remain at the same location, 700 Washington Ave.

 

Q: Is the district planning a completely new facility, a renovation of the current facility or a combination of the two?

The proposal voters will consider Nov. 3 calls for a combination of renovations and new construction. New construction would include a second three-story academic wing and welcome center along Washington Avenue, a new auditorium and fine-arts wing in the back (in what is currently the Athletics parking lot) and enclosure of the school’s open courtyard to provide additional space inside the school and to address safety and security concerns by removing numerous entrances to the building. The new construction would expand the school by about 50 percent, primarily to address 21st-century learning needs, safety and projected enrollment growth; the district anticipates Albany High’s student population will grow from 2,500 to 3,000 or more in future years.

 

Renovations would include a complete makeover for the inside of the current three-story academic wing. That would include the addition of career and technical education (CTE) space on the first floor to allow those programs to move onto the main campus from the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away. The renovation of the second and third floors of the current academic wing would create true small learning communities (SLCs) and more flexible learning spaces in that section of the building. Renovations also would include an indoor track above the existing bleachers in the main gym, and the addition of a second auxiliary gym.

 

In total, the project would expand Albany High from its current 378,000 square feet (which includes the 60,750-square-foot Abrookin) to approximately 570,000 square feet on one campus.

 

Q: How much will it cost?

The total cost of the proposal that voters will consider Nov. 3 will be $196 million. In the planning process, the district opted to extend the project over seven years to maximize state aid and minimize the annual tax impact on homeowners.

 

The $196 million proposed cost is $3.5 million lower than the original proposed cost the Board of Education approved in February. The board reduced the price Sept. 3 to account for work that began this summer for a new high school athletic field and repairs and upgrades to the wing of the building that includes the Albany High pool. Click here to download an overview of the cost breakdown for the proposed project.

 

Following the cost reduction, the impact on homeowners also will be less. For homeowners with Basic STAR the tax increase would be $42 on the average Albany home assessed at $150,000, $60 for a home assessed at $200,000 and $77 for a home assessed at $250,000. For homeowners with Enhanced STAR for seniors, the tax increase would be $30 for a home assessed at $150,000, $47 for a home assessed at $200,000 and $64 for a home assessed at $250,000.

 

Q: Is this the most expensive school construction project proposed in the United States, or even just in New York state?

No. The $196 million proposed project would of course be a major investment in the future for the Albany community. However, it is not the most expensive school project that has been proposed and would not be the most expensive constructed. Additionally, the district has structured the project to maximize state aid and minimize the tax impact. A few examples of comparable projects within the past five years:

  • New York City: $230 million for 2,400 students

  • Newton, Mass.: $197.5 million for 1,850 students

  • Atlanta, Ga., where the cost of construction is significantly less than in New York: $147 million for 2,400 students (1,600 currently enrolled).

  • Los Angeles built the most expensive high school in the United States -- $578 million for 4,200 students. That’s nearly 200 percent more expensive than Albany’s proposal for just 40 percent more students.

With rapidly growing enrollment, a deteriorating building, and critical educational and safety needs, the district has proposed a school that would serve 3,000 students or more and cost the average Albany homeowner 12 cents a day, the average senior with that same home 8 cents a day.

 

Q: Why is this project necessary for Albany High School?

Doing nothing is not an option for Albany High School any longer. Designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s, the school no longer can meet teaching and learning needs, it is falling apart in many areas and, like many public facilities across the state and nation, it is not safe in today’s world. It is time for a major investment in our city’s public high school to benefit our students and community. There are several primary reasons for this.

  • The 41-year-old facility is failing and needs major upgrades and repairs.

    • Last winter, a large section of an exterior wall for the pool collapsed, also exposing major deficiencies in the equipment needed to manage the humidity and air quality in the pool area itself. Although this work is currently being done through a facilities project voters approved in May, it also brought attention to other areas of the building’s brick exterior that are decaying and in need of replacement. These areas of decaying brick pose safety issues as falling bricks could cause injuries.

    • In May and again on the first day of classes this school year Sept. 9, the air conditioning failed in many sections of the school, including the academic building. Temperatures in many areas of the building exceeded 80 degrees during several school days. This exposed once again the building’s deteriorating and deficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Trash cans and buckets frequently are positioned throughout the school to catch condensation dripping from the cooling system in the ceilings. The heating system in the academic building is inadequate and in many parts of the building struggles to regulate and balance indoor temperatures of exterior rooms that receive direct sunlight and interior rooms that do not. Temperatures in some rooms, and from room to room, can range from the 50s to the 80s within a single school day.

    • On Sept. 30, a day of very heavy rain, Albany High had to close all three stair towers on the west side of the academic building because the skylights were leaking. Water was flowing down all three stair towers.

    • The cost of these upgrades and improvements alone would be about $55.7 million, and would not address any of the building’s educational, safety or space needs.

  • The current school cannot accommodate projected student growth.

    • The district predicts enrollment in grades 9-12 will grow from about 2,500 students today (about 200 students more than at the end of last school year) to 3,000 students or more over the next several years. The proposed new facility would expand the total size of Albany High by about 50 percent to meet the needs of a growing student body in the years to come.

    • If the project is not approved Nov. 3, a major addition will be needed in the coming years to serve the projected enrollment growth. The cost of this addition currently is estimated at about $45.6 million, and would not address any deficiencies in any other parts of the current school or the remote location of the Abrookin Career and Technical Center.

    • Major factors driving the district’s student growth include:

      • The student population at the elementary and middle levels has grown significantly in recent years

        • 28 percent at the elementary level

        • 25 percent at the middle-school level

        • We already are at capacity in our middle schools and nearly all of our elementary schools also are at or near capacity. To plan for and address this student growth, we have empaneled a Grade Configuration Steering Committee to make recommendations to the Board of Education this winter for a new middle-school or pre-K-through-8 alignment for the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

      • Albany High's enrollment has grown more than 20 percent in the last three years alone (2,204 in 2012-13 to 2,483 today)

      • Two significant factors in this growth have been a sharp increase in the number of English-as-a-New-Language (ENL) students (about 25 percent over the last four years to nearly 900 total ENL students district-wide), and the failure of charter schools (five charter schools have closed in the last six years).

        • The city’s two charter high schools (Green Tech for boys and Albany Leadership for girls) also are struggling and face uncertain futures. These two schools combine to educate about 550 Albany students. The closure of one or both of these charter high schools, a possibility given the trend in charter school closures in recent years, would have an immediate and significant impact on the need for additional space at Albany High.

      • The enrollment decline at Bishop Maginn High School also has impacted Albany High. Maginn once educated hundreds of Albany students. However, its total student population in grades 9-12 declined to about 150 students during the 2014-15 school year, forcing a move to a new location in a smaller space. It is estimated that Maginn’s enrollment may continue to decline in 2015-16. Its future currently is uncertain. If Maginn closes at some point in the near future, Albany High would be an option for many families, once again leading to an increase in Albany High’s student body and the need for more space to serve all students appropriately.

  • Albany High is difficult to secure in its current configuration.

    • In this day and age, with shootings and other violent events occurring in schools and other public facilities nationwide, all organizations justifiably are concerned about and re-examining safety and security measures. Albany High School was built in an era when these concerns were not paramount. The school therefore has numerous deficiencies that make safety and security a daily concern.

      • The open courtyard has 11 doors -- significantly more entrances and exits than the building needs or the staff can safely monitor at the heart of the campus. These entrances are not only difficult to monitor and secure with staff and technology during the school day and on nights, weekends and holidays, but the aging nature of the building also makes some doors insecure. Enclosing the courtyard in a bright atrium space would not only enhance the school environment and add additional learning space throughout the school, it also would allow for reduction to two entrances and exits – reducing opportunities for an intruder to enter the building.

      • Hallways in large sections of Albany High’s academic building are like a maze. These short, winding hallways create numerous areas that are difficult and costly for the school to manage and control with staff and technology. Students interested in skipping classes often take advantage of these design flaws to avoid hall monitors and other staff. A complete renovation of the current academic building and the construction of a second academic building would allow for better sightlines, fewer areas for students to “hide” when they should be in class and fewer staff necessary to monitor the hallways and ensure a safe, secure learning environment for all students.

      • The location of Abrookin three blocks away creates traffic and other safety concerns for students. Along with the primary academic reasons for moving the career and technical education programs into the main high school building, there also are important safety considerations for this part of the proposal. The fact that 100-200 students cross busy four-lane Washington Avenue every period during the school day for the three-block walk to the Abrookin Career and Technical Center creates dangerous situations on a daily basis. Several students have been hit crossing Washington Avenue during the school day in recent years. The mornings are especially dangerous with work commuters speeding east on Washington Avenue at the same time that students are being dropped off for school and beginning their day. Students having to walk through a city neighborhood to get to class also creates additional safety concerns for our students. Locating all of Albany High’s CTE programs in the main building for the first time would significantly cut down on the safety risks for our students.

Q: How would such a large construction project be completed while the school continues to function?

With no alternative swing space in the city to accommodate 2,500-3,000 students, Albany High School would continue to operate while under construction. We recognize that this will cause some disruptions and aggravations for students, staff and families throughout the project. To minimize the impact on learning, the project would be completed in four phases over seven years. There are several reasons for this approach, such as addressing programmatic needs and the failing infrastructure. Another primary reason for completing the work in phases is to build new space that will allow relocation of students away from the spaces that will be renovated next. In other words, the approach to safety and to minimizing disruptions in a major project is to separate the school community from the construction to the greatest extent possible.

 

In addition to phasing the project, another aspect of the approach we will take to minimize disruption for the students and staff will be through engineering controls implemented through an in-depth planning process. To start, the State Education Department has strict regulations that must be adhered to that deal with the effects from construction on a school. Effects such as proper egress, noise, dust, separation and air quality are all covered in education law. In addition, requirements pertaining to delivery times, truck routes and staging areas, as well as off-hour and vacation timeframes for demolition and asbestos removal will be pre-planned to minimize disruption. 

  

Q: What will be completed in each of the four construction phases, and when will each phase be ready for student use?

If voters approve the proposal Nov. 3, we estimate that construction would begin in the spring of 2018. The project then would be completed in four phases over seven years. The first two phases would be primarily new construction, and the final two would be primarily renovation.

  • Phase I – The first phase primarily would consist of the addition of a new larger auditorium and fine-arts wing at the rear of the school, in what is now the Athletics parking lot. We anticipate that these new facilities would be ready for student use at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Total cost of this phase: $42 million

     

    This new wing would include:

    • New auditorium/stage with balcony, recording booth, control booth and office

    • New library/media center with computer classroom

    • (1) new choral room with practice area

    • (1) new orchestra room with practice area

    • (1) new band room with practice area

    • (2) new music classrooms

    • (2) new art classrooms

    • (4) new studio art classrooms with kiln and storage

    • (7) new foreign language classrooms

  • Phase II – Work on the second phase would begin in the spring of 2019. The major focus of this phase would be the addition of a new three-story, L-shaped academic wing at the front of the school, in what is now the Washington Avenue parking lot. This phase also would include the construction of a new welcome center and main entrance in about the same location as Albany High’s current main entrance on Washington Avenue. We anticipate that Phase II would be completed in the spring of 2021. Total cost of this phase: $55 million

     

    This new wing and renovations would include:

    • (45) new general instruction classrooms: Includes ELA, math, social studies, Academic Intervention Services (AIS), English as a New Language (ENL), career

    • (15) new group breakout spaces (enclosed and non-enclosed)

    • (13) new science classrooms

    • (6) new special education classrooms

    • (6) new special education resource rooms

    • (3) new distance learning lab classrooms

    • (3) new computer/technology classrooms

    • (3) small learning community administration suites

    • Renovated/expanded gym with new indoor track, fitness center and multipurpose room

    • Renovated rubber gym, exercise room and wrestling room

    • Renovated locker rooms, storage, offices

    • New welcome center and administrative spaces: Includes central administration, health center and student wellness/support centerNew teacher support center

  • Phase III – We anticipate that work on the third phase would begin in the spring of 2021. This would include renovation of the first floor of the current academic building to create the new career and technical education (CTE) learning spaces. This would allow all of the programs currently located at the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away to move onto the main campus for the first time, emphasizing the importance of these college-and-career-readiness opportunities for all students. Phase III also would include complete enclosure of the courtyard to create a central spine for the new school that would include student dining and community commons areas. Estimated completion for Phase III would be December 2022. Total cost of this phase: $51 million

     

    These additions and renovations would include:

    • New community commons and student dining area with renovated kitchen and serving areas

    • New secure entries

    • (7) career/technology classroom spaces: Includes (5) renovated classroom spaces and (2) new classroom spaces with administrative and locker space

    • (5) renovated business education classrooms

    • (3) renovated special education classrooms

    • (1) renovated special education resource room

  • Phase IV – The final phase of the project would focus on a complete renovation of the second and third floors of Albany High’s current academic building. The focus of this work would be to create true smaller learning communities (SLCs) with flexible learning spaces designed to meet student needs in the 21st century. This work would begin in January 2023 and with anticipated completion at the start of the 2024-25 school year. Total cost of this phase: $48 million

     

    These additions and renovations would include:

    • (43) renovated general instruction classrooms: Includes ELA, math, social studies, Academic Intervention Services (AIS), English as a New Language (ENL), career

    • (16) renovated group breakout spaces (enclosed and non-enclosed)

    • (6) new science classrooms

    • (6) renovated science classrooms

    • (4) renovated special education classrooms

    • (4) renovated special education resource rooms

    • (2) renovated distance learning lab classrooms

    • (2) renovated computer/technology classrooms

    • (2) small learning community administration suites

Q: How did the district arrive at the proposal voters will consider Nov. 3?

After more than a decade of discussion about how new facilities would best serve Albany High School students for generations to come, the City School District of Albany began in November 2012 planning for a proposal to rebuild and enlarge the 41-year-old school. The district's process of Re-Imagining Albany High School in partnership with the community included dozens of small- and large-group meetings, an online community survey and numerous public updates at Board of Education meetings throughout the three-year process. Even before the process of Re-Imagining Albany High School officially began, an ad hoc High School Facilities Advisory Committee studied options for a completely new or renovated Albany High during the winter and spring of 2012. Please visit the Re-Imagining Planning Process section of our website for more information.

 

Q: Why should the community help pay for a new high school when the district has not been successful in raising student achievement in the new elementary and middle schools built or renovated during the last facilities project?

All children deserve an inviting place for learning. That space should not be predicated on the success that students have previously demonstrated. The most important process in raising student achievement – and a central element in the district’s “2020 Vision” – is to ensure that a caring and highly competent teacher is in every classroom and that each building leader understands the effective strategies involved in making the core process – teacher/student/parent – work in a powerful partnership to change student lives. Buildings do not in and of themselves change the learning process. That being said, school buildings that have (a) creative spaces for learning, (b) spaces for conversations for teams, (c) places for parents to discuss and learn and (d) places for our community to feel welcomed and valued are vital for the growth and well-being of a child. The new Albany High School would provide those elements for our students, staff and community.

 

We recognize the need and responsibility as a district to do more to accelerate student learning and growth for all of our students. That will always be a main focus for all of our work. However, it also is important to note that it is impossible to accurately measure student progress in the era of mandatory state testing for student in grades 3-8 – essentially the same time period in which our students in those grades have moved into new or completely renovated schools. The state tests have been reconfigured and realigned every 2-3 years for a decade or more, and with each change in the state tests all districts statewide saw declines in student performance.

 

Q: How will a new high school improve student results?

Albany High School students are showing signs of early gains in meeting graduation requirements and attendance. The new high school would be organized to support several smaller learning communities (SLCs) to ensure that students within each have a “home” section of the building that is dedicated to their targeted work in collaboration with district partners.  These partners will include career and technical education (CTE), college and university partners, and partners in cutting-edge technology, business, science and medicine. In a new facility designed to meet these needs, all of our students will be able to better interact with our partners to engage in new learning opportunities designed specifically to catapult learning, increase graduation rates and create a structure that allows all students to earn a minimum of six college credits and/or an associate degree from our partner institutions at the same time that they are earning their high school diploma.

 

The new facilities also would allow students to have easier access to their teachers and other support staff for assistance during the day, in contrast to the current SLC configuration that was retrofitted into the existing school and requires many teachers to be on the move between classrooms throughout the school day.

The proposed design incorporates classroom spaces designed for collaboration and students leading their learning. This, again, would be in sharp contrast to the current classroom design, which is primarily built to accommodate only desks in rows focused on an instructor at the front of the classroom – a passive learning environment rather than the dynamic, engaging learning environments in our proposed new school. The proposed design also includes common spaces that would allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration and student presentations.

 

The gym facilities in the new school would be expanded to meet the space needs for fitness and athletic programming like students will find in the “real world” when they graduate. Expanding the main gym to include an indoor track, refurbishing the existing auxiliary spaces and adding a new auxiliary gym would allow for fitness classes, workout spaces and other physical education opportunities the current athletic facilities cannot accommodate.

 

Albany High’s current art rooms, located in internal classrooms on the first floor, are deprived of natural light and also lack adequate space for display and storage needs. The new school would address those shortcomings.

 

A key element of the design of the academic areas in the proposed new school is creating true smaller learning communities with adaptable learning areas designed to provide flexibility as teaching and learning methods evolve over time. This will better allow for flexible groupings of students through Response to Intervention (RtI) with tiered academic and social-emotional supports, as one example.

 

The current school, with all of its deteriorating systems and drab, unimaginative learning spaces, often fails to inspire creativity, collegiality and enthusiasm among students, staff or families. It is the type of school where people have to be, not where people want to be. The lack of natural light throughout large portions of the academic building is a subtle yet important design failing of the current facility. Providing natural light in all learning spaces is an important design element in the proposed new school, which would help create a more positive outlook and attitude for all and contribute to building a more positive school culture and climate that ultimately will benefit students.

 

Q: Why can’t the current high school support the district’s academic goals?

Our current academic goals are to provide more rigorous instruction for all of our students so they are career and college ready. This requires students to be engaged and connected to what is being taught, and to have access to classroom spaces that support 21st-century learning skills: collaborative work, project-based learning, integration of technology, etc. Our current building design will not allow us to fully achieve these important programmatic goals. The current layout physically restricts our students from connecting to a smaller learning community when they have to move throughout the building to take advantage of various offerings that can only be found in certain sections of the building. Students have to travel out of their academy for science, physical education, music and art classes because these classrooms were built to specification more than 40 years ago in certain areas of the building.

 

Our classrooms vary in size and the space may or may not be available to effectively implement 21st-centrury learning techniques. Some science classes are taught in classrooms that meet only the bare minimum science instructional requirement of having a sink, not the full facilities students need and deserve. Teachers often will have to reserve a computer lab or specialty room like the United Nations Room to teach certain lessons. Ideally, we want students to have everything they need in close proximity within their own smaller learning community or academy to assist with being connected to school, allowing them to build stronger relationships with teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. The significant growth in recent years of our population of English-language learners – and the anticipated continued growth of this student group as more refugee families settle in Albany – also requires additional space for our staff to provide sheltered instruction and the support these students need to succeed.

 

Q: What steps or programs has the district put in place that show promise for helping to raise achievement for Albany High students and could be preserved in a new high school?

We are using a rigorous curriculum design process to develop a curriculum that encompasses the instructional strategies we have been training teachers in over the last two years: differentiated instruction, project-based learning, ASPIRE Strategies for Special Education students, AVID strategies to assist students will college-readiness, sheltered instruction protocols to support our English-language learners. We have also implemented an online unit/credit recovery program called APEX. We began implementing rigorous and relevant professional development for our teachers and building leaders beginning in 2013, and those efforts will continue. All principals district-wide are participating in learning walks to develop a common understanding of and expectations for excellent instruction. We have put in a place a system of studio classrooms to help elementary and middle-school teachers develop culturally relevant skills; this work will expand in 2015-16 to include Albany High School as we attempt to engage all of our 700 teachers over time and build the capacity to embed this training in our annual professional development work led by district staff. Our instructional coaches also are actively engaged with teachers in helping them more effectively lead all students toward success.

 

Q: Will the new high school have the same academies, will academies or smaller learning communities (SLCs) be maintained in a different structure, or will the entire SLC structure be abandoned?

The design of the proposed new high school incorporates five SLCS and a sixth learning community for enhanced career and technical education opportunities (the programs currently located at the Abrookin Career and Technical Center three blocks away from Albany High). Specific configurations or themes will be determined over the next several years for the SLCs – three in a new academic wing and two on the second and third floors of the current academic building.

 

Since implementing the four themed SLCs at Albany High in 2011-12, we have made significant gains in ensuring that every student has theme-based experiences in their courses. We are beginning to see students become more engaged, which is a key component for student learning. As mentioned in response to a previous question above, the current physical layout of the building interferes with effective development and design of SLCs. However, we believe that SLCs, as the concept continues to develop and grow, will be critical to the design of our secondary program in the years to come.

 

In a large comprehensive high school, anonymity can erode or interfere with a student’s connection to education. Optimally designed and implemented SLCs can help avoid that and allow all students to develop the adult connections they need to be successful. Time and our students' needs and interests will tell if the SLCs will remain theme-based or if they will evolve into another format, such as learning-style based or career-driven, or if the future structure of Albany High will include an upper- and lower-school configuration to provide more support for students in their first two years and more diverse opportunities both at school and in other academic and career-related settings for older students.

 

Q: If the new high school does have academies, will they be different to help achieve better results for our students?

The smaller learning communities, or SLCs, will continue to develop and utilize the best instructional strategies to engage students in rigorous and relevant curriculum that will prepare them for their post-secondary goals.

 

Q: Will career and technical education (CTE) be part of a new high school? Will CTE become one of the academies?

As stated previously, a critical element in our plan for the new Albany High School is that career and technical education would not remain separate from the main campus but central to the fabric of the school for all students. In other words, all of our students, whether by earning certificates or college credit, will participate in CTE education in some fashion. This may include current traditional careers, but must also include high-wage technical positions to support the growing technology evolution in the Capital Region. CTE in our school district must be broadened to ensure access for all students in all smaller learning communities. The proposed design incorporates significant space for CTE on the first floor of the current academic building, not at a satellite facility several blocks away (Abrookin Career and Technical Center).

 

Our strategic partners throughout the community are poised work with us to ensure that all of our students have access to a powerful learning system grades 6-12 so that our students gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities to attain meaningful employment immediately following graduation and gain acceptance to two- and four-year colleges and universities. Incorporating CTE as a primary focus within Albany High School for all students is vital to this proposed investment in our future.

 

Q: Are there alternatives to the project that is proposed?

As stated previously, doing nothing is not an option for Albany High School, so, yes, there are alternatives to the proposed renovation and construction project. However, the cost of necessary upgrades and repairs would be about $55.7 million, and the cost of an addition to serve the anticipated growth in student population would be an additional $45.6 million by today’s estimates. These investments, totaling more than $100 million, would not address the remote location of the career and technical education programs three blocks away at Abrookin, the primary safety and security concerns created by the open courtyard and hidden hallways, or the inadequate classroom and learning spaces in the main academic building. It would allow Albany High to continue on status quo, which the district does not see as a viable option if we are to meet our goals of significantly increasing student success and Albany High’s graduation rate. It is not the level of investment we believe our students and community deserve for the future.

 

Q: What happens if the Nov. 3 referendum is unsuccessful?

The Board of Education would have to decide whether to send a facilities referendum to voters for consideration at another time. This could be the same project or a revised project. The board also could decide to forego a single facilities project and handle the building’s repair and space needs piecemeal over time. This likely would be a more expensive option in the long run, and also would be a vastly inferior option in terms of meeting the academic and support needs of our students and our community into the future.

 

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