New $5M Voorheesville bus garage needed for safety’s sake
VOORHEESVILLE — The school district here is considering building a new bus garage as part of a larger capital project that could total $10 to $18 million.
The district’s building aid ratio is currently 61 percent, and Voorheesville now has a capital reserve fund of about $1.1 million.
On Monday, Michael Goyer, Voorheesville’s director of facilities and transportation, gave the school board a detailed presentation on the need for a new bus garage, starting with a historical perspective.
He said the district was established in 1826, as he displayed a picture of children in front of a one-room schoolhouse.
“We started with a log school,” said Goyer. “Look where we are now. We’re doing the same thing — we’re educating and protecting.”
Goyer later showed a 1957 picture of the six-bay brick garage, attached to the elementary school, which looks much as it does today. The garage was built for 36-passenger buses, Goyer said, which were not as high nor as wide as today’s 66-passenger buses. Now, a bus’s side mirrors come within an inch of the garage-door openings, he said. “We’ve made do.”
Mechanics used to work on the buses in pits underneath them. The garage roof was raised over one of the bays to allow for a hydraulic lift, which recently broke, Goyer said, and will be replaced with portable lifts.
He also said there is no room for safety barriers to protect mechanics in the cramped garage. “If anything was to let go, they would certainly get hurt,” he said.
Asked after the meeting the cost of the new bus garage, Goyer said there is of yet no official estimate but he’d like to keep it under $5 million. He stressed he was aware of the burden on taxpayers. He also said that the state environmental quality review process was started about two weeks ago.
Goyer told the board that many locations for a new, metal garage had been considered and the best place would be near the district’s satellite athletic fields, which are located on the other side of Route 85A from the secondary school.
He pointed out that the district already owns the land and the garage would not be built near homes. Also, he said, Voorheesville will continue to fuel its buses cooperatively with the county, and not on site. A perimeter fence would be built where the buses were parked, to protect them, he said.
Currently, Goyer said, the district’s buses are parked in four separate locations where they are “unsecured, un-camera-ed — by all means unsafe.” He went on, “We have no means of keeping an eye on them.”
He also said there are environmental concerns. Buses are currently parked so that their back ends hang over the Vly Creek, which runs near the elementary school. Also, he said, where the bus garage meets the school, there have been complaints of exhaust fumes in the school’s library and some of its classrooms.
Further, Goyer said, students and staff have to walk in front of the garage as buses are coming and going, which he said is unsafe.
Maintenance equipment — like mowers and tractors — is currently left outdoors since there is no place to store it, Goyer said.
“We’ve made do,” says Michael Goyer of using a bus garage that is too small for modern vehicles. The sheaf of papers he holds includes a picture of an early one-room Voorheesville schoolhouse.
The district acquired its satellite fields in 2000 where softball and soccer are played. Goyer pointed out there is no permanent shelter near the fields for the athletes to stay safe in a storm, as required by the State Education Department. “There are no cameras, no phones, no lighting,” he said. “We leave a bus there,” he said, to provide some shelter.
The new garage would have a meeting room, he said, which could also be used by students when needed.
Goyer is supposed to see each driver before he or she heads out on a route to check for drug or alcohol problems, but, because of the four bus locations, this is impossible, he said. “The drivers all have keys for buses, which could lead to problems,” he said.
Goyer went over plans that were made in 1996 and again in 2000 for a new bus garage, and studies done in 2009 and 2011 — all with no results. He also went over the advantages of the current plan, including including replacing the current bus garage with a two-story wing for the elementary school. His sketch showed the cafeteria and a central secure entrance on the first floor with a library and classrooms on the second floor.
Currently, Goyer said, security at the elementary school is compromised because, “Once someone is let in, there is 95 feet of unprotected travel.”
Further, in case of an increase in enrollment, the footprint of the elementary school can’t be expanded, said Goyer; parking at the school is also a problem.
Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Brian Hunt said he was having a study done on the potential for increased enrollment at the schools. He said he is working with the Capital Region Planning Commission to see how “housing developments will affect us over time.”
The district’s strategic plan says that Voorheesville had a decline in total enrollment of approximately 12 percent in the past 15 years. According to a projection done by the New York State Rural Schools Association in 2015, district enrollment will level off at just over 1,100 students within the next few years. However, a sudden spike in kindergarten enrollment this past fall — exceeding the average of 79 by about 30 students — coupled with new housing developments in New Scotland has the board eager to learn if it should be planning for more students.
“We have housing projects taking hold now,” said Goyer. “Are we going to be ready?”
He concluded by stressing the importance of “laying the groundwork for the future.”
Long-time school board member C. James Coffin concurred. “The new thing is strong evidence there’s growth in the community….It’s time to deal with the bus garage.”
“We just have so many things going on in the district,” said board member Michael Canfora, naming a maker space proposed at the secondary school, and a playground at the elementary school (which is to be built through $200,000 of donations).
“Look at the whole district, all of our land,” urged Canfora. “Make sure before we spend any money that we have a broad view.”
“That’s exactly why we’re starting now,” said Hunt.
Men in suits: Michael Goyer displayed this picture of 1940s Voorheesville leaders — from left, in front, Robert Jackson, Charles Batchelder, President Wyman V. W. Osterhout, Jerry Badgley, William Senning; in back, Supervising Principal Clayton A. Bouton, and Superintendent Henry Briggs — to inspire current school leaders, now mostly women, to continue to be “visionaries.”
The big picture
On Jan. 30, Superintendent Hunt had told the board there is a need for a capital project because a building condition survey last year pointed out problems that needed to be fixed. He also said that bonds issued for the district’s building project in 2001 will be paid off over the next few years, allowing the district to take on some additional debt to finance the improvements.
Science and technology classrooms need upgrades, Hunt said, which could cost $4 million to $7 million, and he listed building improvements totaling $4.8 million. The single biggest expense is $1.5 million for boilers in both the elementary and secondary schools; other projects would include a new roof on older parts of the elementary school and new windows and emergency lighting at the high school.
The plan would be developed through next winter with the board to adopt a resolution in March 2018 on which the public would vote in May. State Education Department approval is anticipated for September 2019 with construction to start in January 2020. The work would be completed the following September.