By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer
The former Oneida Correctional Facility in south Rome will be reviewed as a possible temporary site to relocate Strough Middle School students for up to two years during a Strough renovation.
The proposal, discussed Wednesday by an advisory committee, joins a list of other alternative sites being explored, including Staley Upper Elementary School, Rome Free Academy and the New York State School for the Deaf.
Oneida Correctional, closed last August under a state prison consolidation, was suggested for consideration by the Rome Teachers Association, said district Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons. The union mentioned it while expressing concern about other potential Strough relocations, such as the possible impact on Staley, he remarked; Staley’s 5th and 6th graders would be divided among several other buildings if Strough students use their facility.
Simons read the advisory committee a letter from RTA President Robert Wood, stating that the union feels Strough’s 7th and 8th graders should be the only students impacted by the renovation; Strough has about 780 students while Staley has about 730. The letter asked that Oneida Correctional Facility be considered, and said if the site could successfully accommodate the middle-schoolers it would avoid possible disruptions of other grades.
Simons said he will contact state representatives including "whether we can go on a visitation" as part of a site review. He said the possible use of Oneida Correctional had previously been mentioned a few months ago by a faculty member and separately by committee member Frank Marasco, but was not pursued. He emphasized that up to now "I have not spoke to anyone" from the state regarding the site, and "I have not explored that option."
The committee began meeting in late January, and Simons noted "all along...I said any option would be considered." The Oneida Correctional Facility option "needs to be explored," he added.
The committee’s next meeting is Tuesday. It previously had aimed to present recommendations to the Board of Education by the end of June, but Simons suggested an extension to Aug. 1. School board members agreed later Wednesday to the extension; it is not expected to affect the $25.4 million Strough project, which is proposed to begin next spring with students being relocated for both 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Oneida Correctional is listed as surplus government property, and the state Office of General Services is tasked with its disposal. The OGS commissioner is RoAnn M. Destito of Rome, a former assemblywoman. OGS spokesperson Heather Groll, when asked about the school district’s review of the site, said today in an e-mail, "We don’t have any information on this and have no comment."
When Oneida Correctional’s possible usage for Strough students was mentioned by Marasco at an advisory committee meeting in March, several others spoke against it because of concerns about placing students near the still-active Mohawk Correctional Facility next door.
However, some attendees at Wednesday’s session cited factors for at least exploring the matter further.
The "knee-jerk reaction" would be "‘no way,’" said Strough science teacher Christina Steurrys, but the committee "would be remiss not to explore that option;" the "social stigma" of a "former prison" should "not be the determining factor," she commented. If it potentially can meet needs and eliminate disruptions of other grades, it should not be ruled out simply because of "social perception," she added.
Staley Parent-Teacher Group President Tanya Davis pointed out the site "was a school that became a prison." At one time it was known as the Rome State School for the mentally retarded, and also as the Rome Developmental Center; it became a prison in the late 1980s. Simons said he had been aware of some school-related services for prison inmates.
Among other relocation issues discussed Wednesday, Staley Principal Karen Miller said the school’s faculty and staff "feel the least disruptive and most cost effective scenario...involves moving only 7th and 8th graders." Staley special education teacher Mary Jo Ciccotti said that moving Strough students to Staley becomes "the one and only option," then consider making the Staley building "the permanent home of Strough Middle School." Simons said he would need to review, in turn, whether a Strough site renovated through a publicly approved referendum could legally become the new home of Staley.
Regarding RFA’s possible use by 8th graders, RFA Principal Mark Benson said it conceivably could work under a staggered schedule of 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. for that grade while grades 9-12 would continue at 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. But many other details would need review, he added.
The school for the deaf, meanwhile, would not have enough classrooms to fit one of Strough’s grades based on current Strough programs, said district Director of Employee Relations Frank Conestabile.