In the spring of 2009, faced with declining enrollment and a bleak economic outlook, the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education made the difficult decision to close its Jansen Avenue elementary building. Fast forward to 2014: Jansen Avenue School is experiencing a Renaissance…a rebirth as an educational facility that will enhance education for students, provide a hub for innovative education and provide a revenue stream that was not an option five years ago.
After closing Jansen Avenue as an elementary school, the building was listed for sale. During this time it was necessary for the district to continue maintaining and preserving the space, to prevent deterioration and a decline in value. Gas and electric expenses for the unoccupied building averaged approximately $10,000-$12,000 per year. Additionally, some manpower, albeit much reduced, was still necessary for such things as clearing snow and mowing lawns.
While providing upkeep on the still unsold building, the district decided to make use of the space for such things as PTA events, sports practices, Title IX training for GJSD custodial staff, and as an alternate testing site for AP exams and SAT tests. The building was also used as storage for the USMC Toys for Tots annual holiday toy drive and served as a site for the Johnstown Police Department to conduct canine training and emergency drills – worthwhile endeavors of benefit to the community.
In preparation for the 2013-14 school year, the Jansen library was repurposed as a home for Johnstown’s innovative new offering for high school seniors known as “The Learning Project.” These students are earning high school credits and, in some cases, physics credit from FMCC, while participating in hands-on projects that require collaborative work, research, and problem solving while incorporating multiple disciplines.
The new HFM BOCES Regional P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program will begin at Jansen in the fall of 2014. Students in the program will earn a NYS Regents diploma as well as an associate’s degree from Fulton-Montgomery Community College, at no cost to their families. Each participating school in the P-Tech program will receive a certain number of slots for students based on a State Education Department formula; Johnstown will have a total of six slots. A co-service agreement (CoSer) with BOCES allows for State Aid to cover costs for P-Tech, with reimbursement per pupil. The district does not get a specific allotment of P-Tech money, only reimbursement for pupils who attend. However, the district will receive rent by hosting P-Tech at Jansen, which, coupled with the rent received from BOCES to use four classrooms for special education, will be approximately $100,000 per year. To learn more about P-Tech, please visit the HFM BOCES web site (external link).
While attempting to market the building for sale failed to result in a buyer, new and viable options for Jansen have been realized. The building is now generating income and supporting creative and innovative education. The community is no longer under the shadow of an empty school with a for sale sign posted on it.
The Board of Education in Johnstown has been, and continues to be, proactive regarding the potential of the district. Closing Jansen in 2009, while painful, helped the district to slow the cost of doing business. There was a reduction of singletons (single sections of an elementary grade level), resulting in a reduction of teaching positions – mainly through attrition. In a school district, the most meaningful budget reductions or savings come from people and benefits. Reducing the costs of health insurance, FICA, contributions to Employee Retirement Systems and contractual obligations helped to prevent two things: program elimination and large tax increases. Johnstown’s budget was approximately $29.1 million for the 2008-2009 school year. The proposed budget for 2014-15 is $30.3 million. Had a building not been closed and staffing reduced, it is not likely the district could have kept its budget increases to such a minimum and continued to provide quality programming for the children of our community.
Since the time the Jansen building was closed, the Greater Johnstown School District has continued to evolve and change. Johnstown began contracting with HFM BOCES Regional Transportation Service for shared transportation administration, bus drivers, bus aides, mechanics, and maintenance at a hub located in Gloversville, which has resulted in greater efficiencies. We are now in the process of determining the number of students who will want and/or need the shuttle system being planned for Grade Level Grouping and there may in fact be fewer routes because of the new configuration. Grade Level Grouping, set to begin in September 2014, changes the district’s “neighborhood” elementary schools to a model grouped by grade levels: pre-k through first grade will all attend Pleasant Avenue; students in grades two and three will all attend Glebe Street, and students in grades four through six will all attend Warren Street.
The Johnstown Board of Education is excited to support creative and innovative education that looks different than education did five, ten or thirty years ago. The rebirth of the Jansen Avenue School has afforded the students of Johnstown an opportunity to be part of that educational transformation and is a positive occurrence of which the entire Johnstown community can be proud.