After months of debate, Binghamton may soon close its most diverse elementary school

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Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School was built in 1970. Asbestos has limited past repairs. (Theodore Roosevelt Elementary Facebook Page)

The Binghamton City School District (BCSD) will soon decide the fate of its most diverse elementary school, Theodore Roosevelt Elementary. The district has proposed shuttering the aging school in order to cut costs and address a decline in projected enrollment across the district.

It’s part of BCSD’s feasibility study, an ongoing restructuring process the district began last year.

There are three other elementary schools on the chopping block. But after a series of public forums this fall, the district said closing Roosevelt, on Binghamton’s North Side,  would mean the most savings and the least disruption to existing school bus routes.*

At a recent school board meeting on October 18, Superintendent Tonia Thompson said Roosevelt needs the most extensive and urgent repairs. The cost of those repairs must also factor in necessary asbestos abatement.

“So the physical structure is strong in steel and brick,” Thompson said. “However, the asbestos was used in a way that was sprayed on to that brick and onto that steel. The question remains what degree to which you can actually get that asbestos out of the material from which that the building was was built?”

Other necessary repairs include window replacements, updating classrooms and common areas and replacing heating, cooling and bathroom fixtures.

The estimated bill comes out to $45 million. Local taxpayers would be responsible for roughly 5% of that cost — a little over $2 million. 

Following months of pressure from parents and staff, the school board said this summer it would also consider rebuilding the school from the ground up.

But Thompson said even if that were to happen, students at Roosevelt would still face displacement during construction, which would take several years.

Parents and school staff opposed to the proposed closure attend a July school board meeting. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

For months, parents and teachers across the district have been outspoken about the prospect of any school closure.

Julie Drozdowski, a parent and a teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, spoke at a recent school board hearing on the potential closure.

“How can we as a district say that we are for all of our students, when we’re even considering asking our most disadvantaged students to accept another blow to their lives by separating from their peers and neighbors?” Drozdowski asked.

State data shows the school serves the highest percentage of non-white students compared to all other public elementary schools in the city. Roosevelt also has the second highest percentage of low-income students in the district, with 84% of it’s students eligible for public assistance programs like food benefits.

Drozdowski said closing Roosevelt would also mean the loss of important community resources for the North Side, like the Teddy Bear Clinic, a free UHS medical clinic housed on the campus. 

Long time teacher Dyan Andrew works at Horace Mann Elementary School, one of the three other schools the district is considering for decommission. Andrew spoke at a recent school board meeting.

“I hope that you see that the decisions that you’re going to make are not only pitting the sides of towns on each other, but you’re also pitting staff against staff, and families against families,” Andrew said.

Andrew said closing any of the schools is going to be impactful, but she urged the district to come to a decision soon so she can plan ahead. 

The school board said it could announce its decision at its November 15 meeting.

The Binghamton City School District will hold its next school board meeting at 164 Hawley Street, Binghamton, NY. The meeting will also be streamed online on the district’s YouTube channel

UPDATE 10/28/22: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from a Binghamton City School District spokesperson.