A plan proposed and approved a few years before the start of construction, the Blind Brook community was excited and looking forward to the renovation of the 50-year-old Bruno M Ponterio Ridge Street School, as well as the extension of the Blind Brook High School to include a Fabrication (“Fab”) Lab and several new classrooms to boost the Blind Brook STEM and Engineering Programs. Past Superintendent Patrick Brimstein cites that “The High School course catalog will be updated to promote new learning opportunities, and real-life challenges to encourage students to bring their ideas to fruition.” The Ridge Street School extension was set to include new classrooms, the elimination of an outdated wing of classrooms that were mostly used by kindergarten and first-grade students, along with a brand new “Cafetorium,” a large space that would be primarily used as a cafeteria, but would also contain bleachers and seating to convert the space into an auditorium to use for school assemblies, instead of using the upstairs Old Gym.
The project began in 2019, with the elementary school rearranging classroom assignments, but no major issues were reported by the district before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which suspended most construction operations for several months. When construction resumed, construction was moving along slowly in Ridge Street, but the Blind Brook High School extension was able to open halfway through the school year last year, and High School students are now attending classes in these new classrooms. But for the Ridge Street school, the construction process and outcomes have been very different, and not as what was predicted. When the plan first was released, the construction was expected to finish at the end of this school year, but that goal does not look promising. The former superintendent, Dr. Patrick Brimstein, released several letters to the district throughout this project, with most of them coming within the last 2 months, which is when the project began to cause the most problems for the district, and the Elementary School students.
While the construction had its biggest impact on students before the start of this school year, the district detected problems and construction delays as early as July of 2020. Brimstein writes, “It became evident to us in July [from a letter written in December of 2020] that the project was unacceptably behind its original schedule.” Brimstein expressed optimism for the project in this December letter, writing that to resolve this delay, a construction company, School Construction Consultants, was hired to “replace the prior construction company. This company helped with the completion of dozens of school construction projects in Westchester and on Long Island, and we are confident in their ability to see our project through to the end.” This, however, was not the case. As school opened in the hybrid model for elementary school students in the Fall of 2020, they were still able to be placed comfortably in classrooms while the construction was continuing simultaneously, and the building was deemed safe for their entry. The construction interfered with certain facilities and classrooms in the school, but it never once interfered with student attendance during the 2020-2021 school year. But a new letter from the former superintendent, written on August 6th, 2021, created the first large issue involving student attendance from the construction project. Brimstein writes in the letter to the community that “Construction at RSS is continuing and making substantial progress…but we have encountered asbestos-related obstacles and other difficulties…district administrators are also mapping out contingency plans if the construction delays interfere with our intended opening.” This message led to an uproar in the community from parents and other residents because the opening of Ridge Street School was put in doubt in the fall, and now parents are unsure if their kids would be able to attend school because of the construction. Soon after this letter was sent, the start date for the elementary school was pushed back from Thursday, September 9th, which was supposed to be the first day, to the next Monday, September 13th. This delay also involved 5th graders having to move into the Middle/High School temporarily to accommodate all Ridge Street students in person. The school was able to, as Brimstein writes in a letter from August 12, “allow our custodians, teachers, staff, and administrators to fully prepare classrooms for learning and to get our campus completely ready for our students.” The problem for the district was that they had no alternative plans in place in case construction interfered with student attendance, and they would have to conduct in-person school at another location. And as it turns out, this is what happened after only 3 days of school at Ridge Street School.
On the night of September 15, 2021, the district announced that the State Education Department prohibited all students from attending in-person learning at the Ridge Street School because the school did not have a proper Certificate of Occupancy from the state that was required to be held after a large construction project to ensure student safety from asbestos and other harmful materials. Parents were furious, and they knew that it would take at least several weeks for this to be all sorted out, and it would take a long time to return to in-person learning. Several Board of Education meetings were held in September, with parents furious about the school situation asking questions, and some targeting the work of Board of Education members and the Superintendent. The biggest question surrounding this construction situation was “Why was there no plan in place for in-person learning outside of the Ridge Street School building if something like this would happen?” Parents were angry at the district for not getting the exact requirements to open up in person, and not having a backup plan. Community residents knew this would be a long process, and the board of education meetings consisted of newly hired contractors and construction workers proposing solutions to help get the school inspected and ready to go. The only option for the school district now was to put elementary students on remote learning until some solution could emerge. At first, the district decided to put 6 classes into the elementary school: one class from each grade level that consisted of students who desperately needed school-related services, and could not conduct their learning remotely. It was announced during a later Board of Education meeting that an inspection date was set for October 1. This date could have gotten Ridge Street a Certification of Occupancy they desperately needed, or it could reveal more problems in the construction that would keep students on remote learning for at least a few more weeks, or whenever this issue got resolved. On October 5, 4 days after the inspection, the community received great news from the superintendent. On October 4th, Brimstein announced that all grades can return to BMPRSS for in-person learning after a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy was received. Shortly after, on October 8, superintendent Brimstein resigned for “personal reasons,” during the outrage from parents about the construction project.
Now, construction is progressing at Ridge Street, with hopes that it could be finished sometime during the 2022-2023 school year. While students are in school now, the district will have inspections from the State Education Department to renew this temporary Certificate of Occupancy. The construction project is in a far better place than it was a month ago, but this goes to show that all members of the community must stay informed about this project and future projects.