Case Studies

Andrew Scimeca – Islip Public Schools

Addressing the educational needs of today and tomorrow

To an outsider, with three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, Islip Public Schools on Long Island probably looks like any other of the countless school districts outside of New York City. But behind the scenes, a dedicated facilities team is working tirelessly to ensure a conducive learning environment for the students.

Andrew Scimeca leads that team of 45 through challenges related to budget and funding, maintenance and the unpredictable and changing climate.

“We’re always looking at our buildings and what they need and what our faculty, staff and students need for a great learning experience,” Scimeca tells Blueprint in mid-September.

Andrew Scimeca | Director of Facilities | Islip Public Schools

Andrew Scimeca | Director of Facilities | Islip Public Schools

More than a decade ago, the district approved about $48 million worth of work on its campuses, but as time goes by, the funding needs of a school district continue to grow. But that bond didn’t cover the full scope of recommended work, which would have required nearly another $40 million. So, Scimeca says the district tries to chip away and complete whatever projects it can using money from its annual operating budget.

Anything that wasn’t addressed in the last bond has been added to the new five-year building condition survey that Scimeca says recognizes the pressing issues of aging infrastructure, obsolete equipment and the scarcity of replacement parts.

Improving the educational experience

About one-third of Islip’s students participate in athletics, and about one-third participate in the district’s fine and performing arts program. The district recognizes the importance of providing top-notch facilities for these programs, Scimeca says.

He notes that the big projects are presented together to garner support for districtwide renovations and needed improvements, combining aesthetically pleasing elements like refinishing gym floors to incorporate the district’s logo alongside vital upgrades like new boilers and air conditioning equipment.

In recent years, the district has invested in a brand-new stage and lighting system, installed new artificial turf fields and addressed some roofing issues. The need for these renovations arises from the expansion of the athletics and fine arts programs and the growing age of the buildings. Merging these projects ensures that the community remains invested in passing the necessary funding, Scimeca says.

The high school’s growing —cosmetology program is putting a strain on capacity that necessitates a comprehensive plan that addresses current needs while considering future growth. Scimeca says there are opportunities to create more space within the existing buildings.

“Every student now has their own laptop or tablet, so do we really need six computer labs, or can we put those spaces to better use?” he asks.

Rather than classrooms with 30 desktop computers, Scimeca says there is an opportunity to convert these spaces to STEAM rooms designed to offer students a different form of education that integrates science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, or whatever is needed to meet instructional needs.

Prioritizing the work

Health, safety, and code compliance take precedence when prioritizing projects. Issues such as sidewalk deterioration are liabilities that must be addressed urgently, Scimeca says. The district also prioritizes enhancing the curb appeal of its buildings and aims to maintain the athletic fields and building facades in excellent condition. He adds that a presentable environment is crucial, as it reflects the district’s commitment to innovation, technology, and academic excellence.

Determining priorities is a complex process that involves input from various stakeholders. Ultimately, the superintendent and the board have final decision-making authority, evaluating each department’s vision against the district’s resources and goals.

Andrew Scimeca | Director of Facilities | Islip Public Schools

“The pivotal factor guiding the decision-making process is the welfare of the students, and our superintendent emphasizes that students’ needs always take precedence,” Scimeca says.

Each department within the district has its own vision and goals of how best to serve the district’s students. To navigate this dynamic landscape successfully, every director must remain adaptable. According to Scimeca, a vision set by a department head in September might evolve into something different by April, so flexibility is key to meeting the evolving needs of students and staff.

While some buildings within the district are about 70 years old, they remain structurally sound. However, upgrades are necessary to keep pace with changing times. Modern educational tools such as smartboards, electronic devices, and audio enhancement systems strain electrical systems. As circuits and panels reach maximum capacity, increasing the electrical load without compromising safety becomes impossible.

Scimeca says formal discussions have begun with the district’s architectural firm about an energy performance contract to address this challenge. The aim is to identify projects that reduce utility usage and enhance energy efficiency. Upgrading boilers, insulating roofs, implementing solar power, and upgrading to LED light fixtures all feature in these plans. The district’s recent experience with heat and high humidity underscores the need for improved climate control systems.

“Providing students with comfortable learning environments is crucial,” Scimeca says.

Building a career

Scimeca’s father, Frank, was a do-it-yourselfer and a facilities director in New York City and on Long Island for nearly 30 years. He always came home with interesting stories about personnel and maintenance issues and how he spent his days solving different problems each day. Despite his interest in his dad’s work, Scimeca initially wanted to be a high school history teacher.

“But I heard that the state pension system was changing, and my dad told me to get into a district before then, so I got a nighttime job in North Babylon’s school district when I was 19,” Scimeca recalls. “That changed my life.”

Andrew Scimeca | Director of Facilities | Islip Public Schools

After earning a facilities management and industrial technology degree from Farmingdale State College and an MBA from SUNY Empire State College, Scimeca spent more than a decade in custodial services and as a custodial supervisor. He worked as a director of facilities and transportation on Long Island for a year and moved to his current position with Islip Public Schools in February 2021.

“I got my first director’s job when I was just 31, and it was an unexpected and welcomed challenge,” he says. “I wouldn’t be successful at what I do if I didn’t have the support of my superiors and the trust of my team.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IX 2023 Edition here.

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