Rochester Prep High School students protest toxics and rusty water in their school outside the Rochester City School District office on Broad Street. They say the school district knew about the poor building conditions.
UPDATE 9:36 A.M. FRIDAY: Rochester Prep High School will move to 1001 Lake Ave., the former Nazareth Academy, for the rest of the school year, and possibly 2018-19 as well.
“It’s not a candidate for a permanent place for us, but it’s a port in a storm right now,” Board President Geoff Rosenberger said.
It will share that space with Exploration Academy Charter School for Science and Technology, an elementary school in its first year of operation.
Original story follows:
After a week of student protests about environmental conditions in classrooms at 690 St. Paul St., Rochester Prep High School is vacating its leased space there immediately and the Rochester City School District may follow suit.
The building stands on a former Bausch+Lomb manufacturing site that was designated a brownfield in 2009 due to the presence of trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic chemical solvent that leaked from underground storage tanks. There have been extensive remediation efforts over the last decade and state and local health and environmental officials all agree it is safe for students and staff.
More: Rochester Prep students worried about polluted school
Those assurances have failed to quell protests from students, staff members, families and even Mayor Lovely Warren. Scores of Rochester Prep students walked out of class earlier this week and many have stayed away since.
“The building is safe, but it’s pretty clear our students don’t want to be there, so we’re going to accommodate their wishes,” Rochester Prep Board President Geoff Rosenberger said. Classes will likely be canceled next week as the school prepares for a hasty move.
RCSD, meanwhile, has about 350 students in the building at All City High as well as about 100 staff members, both at All City High and in other offices located there.
RCSD Director of Operations Michael Schmidt said the district will speak with students and staff in the building Friday morning to see if they’d like to move. If so, they’ll try to accommodate that “as soon as we possibly can.”
“Our number one focus is certainly their safety; our second focus is to make sure we don’t interrupt their pathway toward graduation,” he said. “Our position in terms of the facts … is that the building is safe. But we recognize the perception and very genuine concerns.”
The district is looking at its other buildings as alternate locations for the students as well as possible leases elsewhere, Schmidt said.
It’s unclear what approval the administration needs from the school board to move a program so precipitously. The board is meeting Saturday morning to discuss its options, and President Van White said no decision has been made.
The district, White said, will try to reconcile the environmental monitoring information showing the building is safe with public fears that it isn’t.
“I’ve had cancer; I’ve had relatives with respiratory issues. … so I understand the concerns,” he said. “Some of it is based on science and some of it is just human fear. … The board is acting with urgency and I’m sure we’ll come up with something.”
Rochester Prep sub-leases two floors in the building from the district, which in turn has a 15-year lease with the owner, Genesee Valley Real Estate, ending in 2023. Both entities will likely seek to make the case that they’re breaking their lease agreement under duress to avoid paying a penalty for their early exits.
Dante Gullace of Genesee Valley Real Estate declined to comment Thursday night. Rosenberger, of Rochester Prep, said he intends to “have a long conversation” with RCSD about its sub-lease, which expires in June.
Carcinogenic or not, the building at 690 St. Paul St. was never an ideal location for a school, and has never been used as such except as a last resort for programs that can’t find a home elsewhere.
Rochester Prep had already been planning to move out as it grows. All City High, a secondary program for off-track students, was relocated from the former Marshall campus on Ridgeway Avenue.