The Newburgh Enlarged City School District plans sweeping infrastructure improvements through a proposed capital bond project. Bond funding would pay for major renovations to existing schools, a new pre-kindergarten center and a new building on the Newburgh Free Academy Main campus.
“It’s time to plant our flag,” said Newburgh Superintendent of Schools Roberto Padilla, speaking at a Board of Education meeting last Thursday.
“As other school districts enhance and advance into the future, Newburgh has to do the same… We can put band aids on our facilities or we can be courageous. We can be visionaries and give Newburgh a chance to soar.”
The current plan outlines a redesign for the NFA Main campus: a new high-school building, complete with a cafeteria, gym, auditorium, career and technical education center, and athletic facility with an indoor, track and field space. The plan also calls for renovations at the existing NFA Main campus building.
An earlier version of the plan proposed the consolidation of NFA Main and North schools and moving Horizons-on-the-Hudson students to a new school on district-owned property on Chestnut Street. That suggestion came up against staunch opposition from residents and board members.
“It seems Gidney Avenue is just as small as Horizons,” said Courtney Allen, challenging the idea that the Horizons building had outlived its purpose. “I support the idea that Horizons needs to be upgraded,” said school board member Phil Howard, noting many students walk to the school. “(If) they have to go all the way up to Chestnut Street, that’s not going work.”
Board member Darren Stridiron agreed, saying the move would force parents to have to “taxi” their kids to and from the school. “That’s not fair,” he said.
The Board of Education soon voted no to the closing of Horizons-on-the-Hudson and no to merging NFA Main and North campuses.
Under the current plan, a new pre-K center would be constructed on Meadow Hill School property. The center could accommodate 350 pre-K students, with a design that includes outdoor learning spaces. Pre-K classes at Balmville, GAMS, Horizons and Gardnertown schools would all be moved to the new pre-K center.
The bond amount for the project is not yet determined. “Currently, our debt limit is a little over $188 million,” said district Assistant Superintendent of Finance Greg Kern. To exceed that limit would require super-majority approval by district voters and approval from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, he said.
“Debt is not the only thing we’re going to use to finance the project,” said Kern, pointing to state aid, grants and $10 million in capital reserve.
And, the district is eligible for a hefty amount of state aid, said Kern. “If the whole project was aidable, we’d get 88.4 cents back on every dollar that we spend,” he said. “We’re going to maximize state aid.”
“How does the bond proposal affect the taxpayers?” Stridiron asked. “Depending on maximization of state aid coming through, there should be minimal impact on taxpayers,” replied Kern.
Project costs will be made public by the time the Board of Education votes on the project, said Kern. Residents will also have plenty of opportunity to weigh in before the project can be approved by the board, Padilla said. “Nothing is set in stone,” he said.
Under the current plan, several other schools would also undergo major renovations: Heritage Middle School would get a new auditorium, fitness center, and new tech and music classrooms; Temple Hill would see an expansion of its cafeteria, a new play area and an outdoor learning space.
“We’ve gone through great lengths in the designs… to integrate nature into the classrooms in these buildings,” said Chris Colby, lead project architect with Clark Patterson Lee. “It impacts how well the students learn.”
Meadow Hill, New Windsor, Vails Gate, Balmville Elementary, Fostertown, GAMS and Gardnertown would also undergo renovations and new additions under the plan.
A formal public review period will take place in the fall. The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt a plan in January. A public vote would take place sometime next year, if approved by the board.
The bond project will be revisited at the school board’s meeting on Tuesday, July 25.
By SHANTAL RILEY