Case Studies

John LaBare – Uniondale Union Free School District

Expansion and energy efficiency highlight Uniondale school projects

For 15 years, John LaBare has directed facilities and operations for Uniondale Union Free School District, leading a team of more than 100 people responsible for “everything from the curb in.”

That’s included sidewalks outside schools and hallways inside them, as well as playgrounds, heating and cooling systems, snow removal and plumbing.

The work LaBare has done in the past four years has been unprecedented, though. He’s guiding district-wide improvements to nine schools that culminate with a $40 million expansion to Uniondale High School.

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

LaBare has also earned Uniondale Union Free School District a $500,000 energy use study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA. With results of the study in hand, he’s applying for a second grant that could provide an additional $7 million in funding for energy efficiency initiatives.

“We’re providing safer, healthier facilities for our students and a better student experience,” LaBare says. “We’re upgrading infrastructure and removing our dependence on oil, which should make for a better environment while also cutting back on costs that can be reinvested in education.”

A big bond

The Uniondale Union Free School District is located in Nassau County on New York’s Long Island. It serves about 6,270 students from Uniondale and the adjacent towns of Hempstead, East Meadow and Westbury with five elementary schools, two middle schools and Uniondale High School.

Uniondale UFSD’s expansion, renovation and upgrades to its schools and facilities is funded by a $158 million bond voters approved in November 2018. Most of the bond will be repaid by commercial taxes as well as from the New York State Education Department’s building fund, with property taxes covering about $40 million.

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

The schools range in age from nearly a century old to ones built in the 1990s and though there have been renovations and additions to them in the past, LaBare says this is the most comprehensive effort to upgrade and expand the buildings.

LaBare’s role has gone beyond planning the projects as he also engaged a consultant to supply the New York State Education Department with a demographic survey to establish the need for expanding schools by projecting future enrollments over 10 years. He was part of the community outreach, which entailed working with residents on planning committees and helping write the request for proposals and bid advertisements for the construction.

“This is funded by the one of the largest bond issues in Long Island history, and maybe one of the top 10 largest in New York history,” he says.

Common construction features

The expansion and renovations add needed classroom space throughout Uniondale UFSD, and LaBare says it also emphasizes added sustainability, energy savings, tech infrastructure and security features.

Upgrades include new boilers, LED lighting, hands-free faucets in restrooms, new water fountains with bottle fillers, and Wi-Fi infrastructure and connections.

The first phase of construction began in 2020 with work at the Smith Street, Grand Avenue, California Avenue and Northern Parkway elementary schools. The last two are the oldest schools in the district. A two-story addition with 16 classrooms highlights the California Avenue project, and there’s a new auxiliary gym, renovations to the nurse’s office and to the library media center.

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

The additions and renovations at Grand Avenue School include nine new classrooms in a one-story building, renovations to its science room, and additional site, playground and parking lot improvements. At Northern Parkway, new classrooms, including one for science, fill three building additions. There are also new windows and ADA access upgrades in the older school areas.

Phase one work also included boiler replacements at two elementary schools, Lawrence Road Middle School and Uniondale High School in 2021.

A phased approach

In September 2021, the second phase of projects began with an 18,000-square-foot, two-story addition with 13 classrooms and other upgrades at Walnut Street Elementary School.

The second phase also includes work at Smith Street Elementary School, where six classrooms in two new, one-story buildings are being added. There are also new rooms for speech, occupational and physical therapy and upgrades to offices for social workers, guidance counselors, the school psychologist and school nurse.

At Cornelius Court Elementary School, Uniondale UFSD offices will be relocated to schools at California Avenue and Northern Parkway and the vacated spaces will be converted to classrooms. LaBare expects work to begin by the end of the year.

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

The third phase of construction is set to begin this spring and will expand Lawrence Road and Turtle Hook middle schools as well as Uniondale High School.

Middle school additions include nine classrooms at Lawrence Road and seven at Turtle Hook as well as new auxiliary gyms, while expanding testing rooms, language labs and band rooms. The largest project is the $40 million additions to Uniondale High School, including 25 new classrooms and upgrades to athletic facilities such as a new auxiliary gym, an artificial turf field and running track. LaBare expects the field and track work to be finished in spring 2024 before new construction begins that summer.

From hospitality to education

Before LaBare managed facilities for schools, the Chicopee, Massachusetts, native worked in the hospitality industry in several capacities for Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. He also served in the Massachusetts Army National Guard from 1984 to 1990 before becoming chief engineer at a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut.

By 1993, LaBare had become chief engineer at the Sheraton Smithtown on Long Island, but he was looking for greater challenges. When he saw an ad for superintendent of buildings at Mill Neck Manor School for Deaf Children on Long Island, he applied. He grew up with two deaf siblings and knew sign language and says his skillset made the job ideal for him. He also volunteered with the Locust Valley Fire Department and earned his EMT certification.

John LaBare | Director of Facilities and Operations III | Uniondale Union Free School District

In 2000, LaBare joined Valley Stream High School as director of facilities and operations lll. While there, he earned his associate degree in business management from American Intercontinental University. He joined Uniondale Union Free School District in 2008.

The construction and renovation projects are unprecedented in scope for LaBare and have included the challenges of working through COVID-19 restrictions and having second-phase project bids come back above estimate because of cost increases for materials and supply chain disruptions. He says it’s work he couldn’t have done without support from his staff who handle arduous tasks such as paperwork.

“Overseeing the details and the work for the Uniondale School District bond issue has added to my large construction projects,” LaBare says. “The required paperwork involved from the New York State Education Department for the contractors bonds and insurances has expanded my legal knowledge, too. I’ve enjoyed creating better, state-of-the-art classrooms for kids in the district.”

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

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