EducationThe White Plains Examiner

White Plains Schools Report Delays in Construction Projects

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By Barbara  Kay

White Plains Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Ricca

The White Plains Board of Education revealed last week that delays in state Education Department (SED) approval is holding up four projects from the ongoing $71.4 million in capital projects improvements districtwide.

School officials received an update from Triton Construction during the board’s Feb. 12 meeting. Plans have been submitted to the state for approval are the HVAC and filtration upgrades at seven of the nine schools; construction upgrades to Field 12, the high school ceiling and lighting at George Washington Elementary School; and bidding for the Dammann House demolition.

Delays are also expected for preconstruction efforts at the high school and for interior renovations.

The timeline for their approval was originally thought to be three to four months, but the anticipated wait has nearly doubled to six to seven months, according to Chris Pearson, senior vice president at Triton Construction.

“Historically, through last year, depending on the size of the project, SED was taking about three to four months to approve a project to get ready for it and go out for bid,” Pearson said. “Since the beginning of this year, that time frame seems to have jumped to six to seven months. This is statewide.

“The SED seems to be overrun with requests for approvals and then not sending any of these drawings out to a third party for inspections,” he added.

Third-party inspectors include architects and other professionals who are qualified to complete reviews, but that option is not “presently available,” said Dr. Joseph Ricca, superintendent of schools for the White Plains School District.

“There’s an ongoing conversation about trying to figure out a solution to get projects reviewed in a more timely fashion,” Ricca said. “Whether or not we see the availability of the third party, we want to make sure we clearly communicate with the Board of Education and community about what’s happening at the state level and what the expectations of the timeline should be.”

The SED did not respond to request for comment regarding the increased time it is taking to have the agency approve projects.

The work is part of the Long-Range Facilities Plan that started several years ago. The district is using $60 million bond and money from capital reserves that were approved by voters in May 2022 to pay for the projects. Ricca said the goal is to complete these projects without raising residents’ taxes.

“What we do is line up existing capital debt that is falling off and replace it with new debt so it doesn’t have an impact on increasing [taxes],” Ricca explained. “It has, as much as possible, a reduced impact on taxpayers and provides the ability to maintain peoples’ buildings and takes advantage of whatever grant funding or additional funds are available as well as capital reserve funding that we work to do each year so that we can attend to one time only projects without having to borrow [tax money] to do that.”

The board will update the community on the projects at its meeting next month.

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