UPPER WEST SIDE — After months of delay, construction is set to begin this summer at a new middle and high school in the neighborhood under an emergency contract, Department of Education officials said.
West End Secondary School (WESS), the new six to 12 school on West 61st Street that replaced Beacon High School after it moved to Hell's Kitchen, will receive $20 million to $25 million in upgrades over the next year-and-a-half, leaders of the School Construction Authority (SCA) said.
The SCA is the new construction arm of the DOE.
The long-promised work to upgrade WESS was delayed for more than 10 months because the SCA and the building's landlord, Walter & Samuels Inc., could not reach an agreement on new lease terms. Without an agreement, renovations could not begin, despite the fact that the school welcomed its first students this September, SCA officials said.
In the end, City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal's threat of using eminent domain, and the rallying of her colleagues behind that threat, as well as constant pressure from Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, made the difference in the SCA's reaching a verbal lease agreement, said SCA CEO Lorraine Grillo.
"You have no one to thank but the elected officials," said Grillo at a recent Community Education Council 3 meeting of the breakthrough in the negotiations.
The SCA expects the new 20-year lease to be signed and finalized this week, but the DOE did not immediately respond to request for comment regarding whether it has been signed as of Monday.
Currently there's only an inaugural sixth grade class in the building, but each year WESS will add a grade until it's at capacity as a sixth- through 12th-grade school. With no time to spare given the increasing enrollment, the SCA will use an emergency contract to begin work this summer, said Grillo.
Under an emergency contract, the SCA doesn't have to wait and go through a protracted bidding process from contractors, said Grillo.
This summer, work that will last through September 2017 will begin to expand the school's kitchen. The kitchen work will continue through the school year during non-school hours, said Mike Mirasola, director of external affairs at SCA.
During the 2016-2017 school year, students can use the cafeteria, but the kitchen work will mean food will have to be brought in and reheated, but nothing will get cooked on site, said Mirasola.
Other major changes to the school include expanding the gym and auditorium space on the second floor, adding science labs and classrooms on the third floor, and moving an exercise room and music practice rooms into the basement, said Mirasola.
While the SCA originally quoted $50 million in upgrades to leaders and prospective parents, that figure got dialed down to $20 million to $25 million because some of the upgrades are now under the landlord's purview, said Grillo.
The larger figure reflected the SCA's projection that it would replace the HVAC system and other building-related upgrades that through negotiations now are the landlord's responsibility, she said.
All of the upgrades the SCA has promised, in terms of expanded spaces and new classrooms, will be finished by Jan. 1, 2018, said Mirasola.