GCSD proposes $43M project to improve security, tech, efficiency

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland School Board has approved a $42.7 million capital construction project that will go before school-district voters on Oct. 16.

About half of the project is expected to be funded through state aid, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders. Over the past two decades, Guilderland voters have approved three major bond issues, each a half-dozen years apart.

A committee of parents, teachers, administrators, and community members with experience in construction or facilities worked with a team of architects and engineers, beginning in March and ending in June, to determine priorities and develop the proposal. The committee presented its findings to the school board on July 6, and the board voted on Aug. 14 to adopt the recommendation of the committee.

The vote was 7 to 1, with Vice President Seema Rivera absent. Tim Horan, a retired schoolteacher, voted against the project. On Wednesday, Horan declined to comment, citing a school board policy that the president should speak for the board. President Christine Hayes said she can’t comment about Horan’s feelings.

The Guilderland Teachers’ Association backed Horan in his run for the school board in May 2017, but union President Tara Molloy-Grocki said on Wednesday that the GTA enthusiastically supports the proposed project.

The district is presenting the project with three categories of upgrades or improvements, each with its own price tag:

— $21,192,994 for security and safety: The fire-alarm, public-address, and telephone systems, which the committee’s report says are outdated, would be replaced. Security cameras would be added and replaced. Impact-resistant film, which was put on vestibule doors and adjacent office windows during improvements between 2009 and 2010, would be added to glass on exterior doors. Plumbing would be upgraded and various interior, exterior, and site work would be done on all seven school buildings, including the demolition of the former district offices;

— $9,403,851 for efficiency: Heating and ventilation system would be renovated and windows replaced for greater energy efficiency at all seven schools. Clock systems would be replaced at all five elementary schools and outdated classroom cabinetry and storage units would be replaced at four of the five elementary schools — not at the newest school, Pine Bush Elementary; and

— $12,121,255 for technology: Science and technology labs at the middle and high school would be modernized. Mobile classroom furniture that can be reconfigured to meet students’ needs would be added. And wireless infrastructure would be improved.

District residents will decide on the capital project as a whole, casting one vote, not three. If the project is approved by voters, construction will begin in spring of 2020.

For district residents owning a home or property with a full-market value of $326,000 — which, according to school-district documents, is the median in the district — the estimated tax increase per year would be $103, or $0.315 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Committee member Emilio Genzano — who served on the school board for several years about a decade ago — told The Enterprise that the process was “very nicely done” and included tours of all of the school buildings. He said that process took the form of presentation by Sanders, facilities director Clifford Nooney, and the architects, followed by questioning, challenges, and explanation.

A district summary of the proposal notes that a survey of students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members taken in January of this year found that, for 61 percent of respondents, “safe and secure” buildings was their highest priority.

The former district offices in front of Farnsworth Middle School, which have been used for storage since the district offices were moved to the high school in 2010, will be demolished. The building was originally used by golfers when a course covered the grounds where the school was built, separate from the golf course across the street.

The building had issues, including poor heating and ventilation systems, inadequate site drainage, and an overburdened electrical system, according to the committee report. New offices for administrators were constructed at the high school as part of an earlier bond project.

If the $42.7 million project passes, a shed will be built to preserve utilities such as water, gas, electricity, and internet access at the site, and construction companies will use it as their staging area for this and future projects, hooking up their trailers to it.

Sanders noted at the Sept. 11 board meeting that the district had reached out to the Albany County Board of Elections to ask if the referendum could be part of the general election in November, but was told that that could create confusion for voters and could potentially pave the way for legal challenges later.

The district lines are not the same, he said, and the polling places — with residents voting in the catchment areas for the five elementary schools —  are not the same, all of which could lead to voter confusion and frustration.

Financing

Sanders told the board at its Sept. 11 meeting that, conservatively, he estimates that at least half of the project costs will be eligible for state building-aid reimbursement. This includes incidental costs such as architect and engineering fees, bonding and legal expenses, and furniture and equipment.

Sanders told the board that the loan would be repaid over 15 years and that its payment structure would be aligned with the state-aid repayment process.

The last three bond issues for capital improvements occurred either five or six years apart, according to the committee’s report. This allows for periods when debt payments drop or tail off as bond issues are fully paid and expire, the report says. The existing debt net of any state-aid revenue drops from $1.9 million in 2017-18 to about $880,000 in 2020-21, the first year of new debt associated with the project, the report says.

Layering new debt in this way, Sanders told The Enterprise, helps to keep everything stable and to avoid large increases in years in which the district takes on new debt.

The tax-impact calculation includes the use of $3,112,600 from the district’s capital reserve fund, according to the report, that will be used to lower the amount of funds borrowed.

Superintendent Marie Wiles and other district officials will hold an information session on the proposed project at the Guilderland Public Library on Oct. 3. The session will be held twice: from 10 to 11 a.m. and again from 7 to 8 p.m. District officials will discuss the reasons for the proposal, the scope of work, and the impact on taxpayers, and take questions.

 

More Guilderland News

  • Altamont Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck told the board of trustees last year that water-and-sewer rates had to be raised so the village could collect another $100,000 per year for general operations and maintenance.

  • The Guilderland committee for police reform assembled arrest records according to race and found that a much higher percentage of Blacks than there are Black residents in town were charged. This is largely due to arrests of out-of-town suspects made at Crossgates Mall, according to Police Chief Daniel McNally. The public is encouraged to read the draft and respond.

  • The Bull & Basil Wood Fired Pizza

    Craig Turnbull, the owner of Bull & Basil Wood Fired Pizza, moved to Voorheesville about a year ago, and has been cooking at various farmers’ markets and breweries in the area ever since. He is now considering the opportunity to turn Bull & Basil into a brick-and-mortar business, he told the Guilderland Planning Board this week.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.