YONKERS, N.Y. – Yonkers school administrators believe they have found a way to give their deteriorating schools a makeover, but City Hall is approaching the plan with caution.
Yonkers Public Schools submitted a 144-page infrastructure improvement report to city officials last week, outlining options for an innovative public-private partnership.
In the study, a trio of firms with experience in similar partnerships describe proposals for Phase 1 of the overhaul, a nearly $700 million restoration and upgrade of six city schools.
After receiving the report, called “Yonkers PRIDE: Performance-based Rapid Infrastructure Development,” Mayor Mike Spano announced he had requested the Commission of Inquiry into the Finances of the City of Yonkers to conduct an independent review of its findings.
“It is incumbent upon me as mayor to do my due diligence and vet this proposal to see what is best for both our public school system and our taxpayers as we navigate our city back onto the road of fiscal stability,” Spano said.
The complete 15-year plan, which includes building a new Gorton High School, addresses the declining condition of many city schools. Nearly all the buildings in the Yonkers School District have been deemed “unsatisfactory” by New York state, which cited problems with lighting, ventilation and size.
The schools are also some of the oldest in the state at an average age of 73 years, administrators said. Nine district buildings are more than 95 years old, and the oldest is 117.
In his testimony before the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee earlier this year, Superintendent of Schools Bernard Pierorazio said the district did not have many options as it looked to address more than $1.6 billion in needed improvements.
“The sheer size of the fiscal effort needed, combined with the relatively low state building aid that the district receives, simply put the project beyond the scope of traditional 'design-bid-build' delivery methods financed by municipal bonds,” Pierorazio said.
The district has come up with an innovative plan, a public-private partnership in which private companies would build and renovate several city schools while receiving monthly payments with city and state money. The hope is the PRIDE plan would provide an affordable solution to the capital improvement problems and growing student body, Pierorazio said.
If it moves forward, the project would be the first of its kind in the country. Last year, it was named one of the world’s 100 most innovative urban infrastructure projects by KPMG Global Infrastructure.
By requesting the commission’s review of the proposal, the mayor said he is seeking a better understanding of the project’s fiscal implications for Yonkers taxpayers and city students.
“While I recognize the critical importance of devising innovative and expedited solutions for the extraordinary capital needs of our schools, the city’s need to frame solutions which promote fiscal stability is paramount,” he said.
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