New Staley, RFA athletic site eyed

Published Dec 7, 2018 at 12:17pm

A new Staley Elementary School would be built at the Turin Street site where Rome Free Academy formerly was located, while a new athletic complex including a stadium would be built behind the current RFA facility at Griffiss park, in a Rome school district proposal.

The athletic complex also would include baseball and softball facilities plus a field house/ fablab building that could have academic uses as well, based on the proposal.

The projects could be part of a public bonding referendum that would seek school district voters’ approval next May, according to a capital project presentation by district Superintendent Peter C. Blake at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night.

Blake emphasized, however, project details including costs are still to be finalized pending a state Education Department review of the plans. His presentation projected having the “budget development” and “scope of the work” determined by the end of January, with community meetings from February to May prior to the referendum vote.

Blake did say after the meeting that the project as proposed would have a cost of less than $100 million. If the referendum were to be approved by district voters, the district could bond for the expense and be reimbursed by state financial aid at a rate of about 97 percent, although Blake said the proportions of aid for the athletic-related portions could face some uncertainties in the state review. In addition, for a proposed new Staley building, the state Education Department “may say ‘no’” to those plans and instead direct the school district to renovate the current site, he noted.

Plans affecting Staley

Regarding the current Staley building at 620 E. Bloomfield St., Blake said his recommendation would be for the district to keep the property but eventually demolish the building; that would be a “totally separate project” from the referendum proposal, he said. The district conceivably could “install a solar field” there and generate potential income through a solar energy supply agreement with the New York Power Authority, he suggested.

Among issues with the current Staley building, said Blake’s presentation, are that it has a “significantly outdated learning environment;” its interior has been “not significantly renovated since original construction;” and it “sits on a federal flood plain.” The building, which dates back to approximately 1957, is on land bordered by the Mohawk River, and Blake said it has faced moisture-related issues with air quality and ventilation plus concerns about mold.

To overcome the flood-plain issues while keeping Staley at its current site, a new school would have to be built there with the land elevation raised, at a total estimated cost of $75 million-$78 million, said Blake. That scenario including the land preparation, he said, would surpass his estimate of a total Staley-RFA project cost of less than $100 million which is based on having a new Staley building at the Turin Street site. If instead the current Staley location were to be renovated, meanwhile, it would include correcting various building elements that are not up to current codes which also could add to expenses, Blake remarked.

A proposed new Staley building at the Turin Street site could make use of the gymnasium areas at the existing Stadium Support Facility complex that borders RFA Stadium, which could help alleviate possible state aid issues for athletic-related portions, said Blake. He added the location would represent about a “one-block difference” for Staley’s current geographic “catchment zone” for student attendance, which would mean that students would not have to be redistricted in terms of which school they attend.

The Staley plans additionally would mean that the school district’s “primary athletic facility” would not be in that Turin Street area, Blake said. Besides RFA Stadium, that area also includes a baseball field.

Plans for RFA athletic complex

RFA Stadium currently is in disrepair, said Blake's presentation, and its grandstand needs "significant work." In addition, the stadium's artificial turf field and the track both need replacement, while the nearby baseball field is in "great need of upgrades," his presentation said.

As for the proposed athletic complex behind RFA’s Griffiss park site, Blake said the stadium would be located near the site where a track currently is.

A proposed field house/"fab lab" would be near the stadium. Among the building's potential academic uses, Blake said, could involve working with drones. His presentation mentioned seeking to "develop an aviation curriculum to support development and flight of drones" in conjunction with community efforts in that category.

The field house also could accommodate an "indoor graduation" for RFA if needed due to weather, said Blake.

With baseball and softball fields also proposed, the district for its primary athletic fields would be "putting it up at RFA" overall, Blake commented. He referred to a lot of "currently empty field space" there. The current rear roadway entrance to RFA would become a prime entrance, Blake said. The district has "already had contact with City Hall" to "make them aware of our desires" for that area, he added.

Noting the longtime parking availability problems near the current RFA Stadium, Blake said there would be "a lot of additional parking" at the RFA school area.

The proposed project also would feature work at the RFA school building including repairs involving the roof, the small auditorium, and redeveloping space to modernize learning areas, said Blake's presentation. He said all repairs previously identified in building condition reports would "come off the docket first."

Among comments by board members, Joseph Mellace asked whether the current Staley property's location in a flood plain could cause difficulties for a re-sale of the land. Blake said that in his personal opinion, "I think so," prompting his suggestion to use the property for a solar-energy field.

Board clerk Paul Hagerty asked whether the overall work would involve "one major project." Blake said it currently is proposed that way, but also "could be phased." If the referendum were approved for the proposed plans, work conceivably could begin in the spring of the 2020-21 school year and take about five years to complete, he added.

The current RFA school at Griffiss park opened in 2002. Much of the former RFA site at Turin Street was demolished about six to seven years later, except for the portion now known as the Stadium Support Faciilty.