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Improvements to make Poughkeepsie spaces safer, welcoming; see what's planned

Director of Facilities Marcos Rodriguez looks at the ceiling in Poughkeepsie Middle School’s cafeteria last week.There’s a whiteboard in Marcos Rodriguez’s office filled with two- and three-word labels:

“PHS gym.” “PMS ceiling.” “Clinton gym.” “Krieger doors.” “Warring cafeteria.” Each represents a project that will improve buildings in the Poughkeepsie City School District. Some, like those ending with the word “playground,” have already been crossed off. By summer’s end, many more will join them.

“Summertime is actually when we accomplish the bulk of the work,” said Rodriguez, the director of facilities for the district. “The guys work, I’d say, harder during the summer than they do during the year because in the summer we have to get the schools back up and running.”

The biggest projects revolve around safety – abating hazards and fixing areas which may be vulnerable to water leaks – and esthetics, to create updated spaces in which students can take pride.

“It needs to be a welcoming environment,” Rodriguez said. “My idea is that if kids get exposed to nicer, more welcoming things the culture, over time, changes. I think that that’s the right approach to things.”

Making school facilities someplace a student would want to visit encourages them to use the services offered and helps to reduce absenteeism.

At the high school, a transformation project encapsulates that notion. By fall, students will be eating in a space that feels less like an institutional cafeteria and more like an upscale café, with dedicated cafeteria and lounge spaces.

The cafeteria’s walls have already been repainted. The rooms are also getting new flooring and decoration. Tables will be varied, with some booths, high-tops in the mix, and a grab-and-go station will be established. There will also be kitchen upgrades.

Cafeteria renderings“Coming from New York City Department of Education food service department, we have a lot of enhanced cafeterias, where they have the grab-and-go stations and new equipment that provides different types of options every day,” said Shameka Watson, director of food service. “I thought having that here would give the students of Poughkeepsie something different and they would be excited to come and sit at lunch and eat the food.”

Updating the kitchens in district buildings has been a priority for Watson. The Warring kitchen and cafeteria will undergo a renovation this summer, as well.

An update on the Strong Schools Equal Strong Communities Capital Project was provided at the June 18 Board of Education meeting. The presentation and video of the presentation are both online.

Other major upcoming projects include:

  • Water intrusion mitigation at Clinton, in which the perimeter of the building will be excavated.
  • Completing the bathroom renovations at Poughkeepsie Middle School, which began last summer.
  • Replacing the ceiling in the middle school cafeteria with a drop ceiling and LED lighting, while creating closet spaces in some of the cafeteria’s nooks.
  • Door and frame replacement at Clinton, Krieger, Morse and the high and middle schools.
  • New epoxy gym floors at Clinton and Morse, the only two buildings that don’t have wood flooring in the gym.
  • Unit ventilator replacements in each room of the Early Learning Center.
  • Blacktopping in the middle school courtyard where kids can eat lunch. “We’re making it so they don’t need to walk through mud,” Rodriguez said.
  • Repairs on brickwork at the high school and panels on the side of the gymnasium space, which have the potential to allow leaks.
  • Asbestos abatement and replacing the carpet floor in one high school classroom.
  • Replacement of the bicycle racks at all schools.

Already, much of the middle school ceiling has been removed and bathrooms have been demolished.

Rodriguez noted the door replacement work cannot begin until toward the end of July due to the timing of when new doors will arrive. The doors that require hazard abatement will be tackled during the summer, with the remainder of the work to be finished after school hours in the fall.

A demolished middle school cafeteriaA slew of projects on that white board have been completed in recent months, including installing new playgrounds at all the elementary schools (see Superintendent’s Brief Issue 83), a new flagpole at the high school, new adjustable basketball hoops in elementary school gyms, and a new walkway that allows students at the Early Learning Center to travel to school without walking down the arterial. Other improvements have been made to the landscaping.

“We’ve added some plants and some shrubbery to make it look a little better, and we’ve moved to an approach where I have all my guys, all hands-on, two days a week to make sure every school’s grass gets cut two days a week,” he said. “Just the fact that we make the place more welcoming, it makes a difference.”

The whiteboard isn’t the only sign of what’s to come in Rodriguez’s office. His table is littered with vinyl flooring samples and cloth swatches, piled on top of blueprints. An easel in the corner of the room has possible plans for the Jane Bolin building transformation.

There are also six samples of auditorium chairs. Those, once customized to the district’s specifications, may end up in the high and middle schools’ auditoriums, when that renovation project kicks off next summer.

Rodriguez praised the support his department has received from district administration, as well as voters approving capital projects.

“I’ve been given the funding to continue to make progress. That’s huge,” he said. “The more they tell me I can do, the more I can work on getting done.”