Last week The Highland School Board unanimously approved a new $7,575,000 capital improvement project, which will go before the voters on May 15. At that time they will also be voting an a $45,004,152 budget (with a tax levy of $28,000,464) for the 2018-19 school year and a bus proposition of $588,000.
Board President Alan Barone said after the original $25 million Capital project was defeated by the voters, the board received input from the community, resulting in a scaled back project of $17.5 million that was approved. He said a few of the people involved at that time returned to offer their advice about the new $7.5 million project.
“I think overall through our support service meetings we’ve come to a conclusion that the timing is right for us to move forward with another Capital project,” he said.
Business Administrator Louise Lynch said in the 2019-20 school year the district will no longer have a debt payment of nearly $2.1 million but will experience some new debt for the recent $17.5 million capital project, which is included in the 2018-19 school budget. She said overall this will result “in a decrease in the amount of debt and associated building aid attributable to that and we have this amazing opportunity where we have a lot of work that still needs to be done.” She said there are about twenty items, mostly related to health and safety that need to be completed.
Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi said “this is all about the kids at the end of the day and providing the best possible educational environment at a price the taxpayers can support and afford. We feel this project does accomplish that and will maintain our tax base so we’re not going up and down.” He likened this project to the upkeep of a home, saying “If you ignore the maintenance on anything on your house or your car for many years you’re going to be hit with a big bill and you get a little bit of sticker shock.” He added that “we get a healthy amount back from the state.”
Lynch said that if any of the 20 items on the list should break, the district then deems the item as an emergency repair “and we pay 100% of that cost through the General Fund budget and then there is no [state] aid.” She said typically the school board and then the voters approve a capital project “and then the building aid follows, but if its not done in that manner, you lose the opportunity to receive the New York State revenue, which we refer to as building aid.” She estimated that building aid is usually at 70 percent of a project.
Barone said the board established a Capital Reserve Fund they have been contributing to for the past three years.
“That money will also help offset the impact to the taxpayers,” he said, adding that to use that money for a project requires approval from the public. In May, the public will be voting on this Capital project, which will include tapping $425,000 from this special reserve fund. If the overall project is approved by the public the balance will be in the form of a bond.
Barone said this project “has been somewhat fast-tracked but I think the timing is there, we have the needs and I think this is the appropriate time to move forward with this.”
Board member Mike Bakatsias pointed out that the district’s bond counsel advised them that this is an opportune time to do this Capital Project because instead of retiring the debt it can just be carried over, with “minimum or very little” impact upon the taxpayers.
District Facilities Manager, Pete Miller offered details on each of the items contained in the new $7.5 million Capital Project. A new heating and air regulation system is needed in Central Administration because this area was originally classrooms where the HVAC system was not of the best design or very efficient.
Re-keying of the interior and exterior lock system is needed to better control access to and within the buildings.
The fiber data lines between the Middle and Elementary Schools are to be replaced.
Generators at the bus garage and also at the Middle School are needed to protect their refrigeration, phones and alarm systems.
Upgrades to the unit vents and heating system in the 1971 portion of the Elementary School, which are at the end of their lifespan. He said new codes mandate that fresh air be provided at levels that these failing units can no longer provide.
Upgrades to perimeter lighting at all three schools that will be mounted on the buildings to light up the exteriors of the buildings from dusk to dawn for safety and security. In addition, an upgrade to the emergency lighting is needed at the Middle School if the power were to fail in the building. Currently they are not up to code.
The original HVAC dampers and controls at the High School (circa 1960) that maintain proper air flow in the gym, the auditorium and the cafeteria need to be replaced.
The Kal-Wall fiberglass composite above the library at the high school needs to be replaced, as they are deteriorating based on discoloration and flaking.
The basketball court at the Middle School by the field has to be resurfaced with either asphalt or a rubber compound (to be determined) along with a new backboard.
A sewer pump upgrade at the High School is needed, which has a large leech field type of septic system.
The stage curtains in the High School auditorium are due to be replaced as they are at the end of their lifespan. In addition, a projector and a 16’ x18’ screen are also needed.
An upgrade to the heat in the High School locker room storage for boys and girls sports equipment.
A bus loop in front of the High School will be installed so that all students enter into the same building portal instead of filtering in through multiple doorways.
The High School has to isolate a switch rack for new cameras and computer related equipment that is in a boiler room, which must be temperature controlled.
In the Middle School antiquated pneumatic HVAC controls will be replaced with electronic controls and sensor switches.
Miller described how they arrived at a list for this project, saying, “We picked a number of things that we thought would fall within the number we are aiming for.” He said if they receive bids with totals that are lower than expected, the district could add more components to the project but only if they are related to items that have already been approved by the voters.
By Mark Reynolds