‘Game-changer’: $22M GCSD project passes with nearly 64% of vote

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

All eyes on the numbers: Guilderland School Board members — from left, Rebecca Butterfield, Kelly Person, Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, Kim Blasiak, and Judy Slack— watch as the final results come in on the $22 million bond vote.

GUILDERLAND — School district residents here passed a $21.8 million capital project on Thursday with nearly 64 percent voting in favor.

“After what our kids have been through, this is awesome,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles on Thursday night just after the results were in.

“Every aspect will make a profound difference,” she went on.

The project includes $12.75 million in work that was eliminated from a defeated bond proposal in 2018 with other upgrades across the district’s seven schools, including heating and ventilation improvements, bathrooms, classroom cabinetry and storage, roofs, lighting, windows, flooring, lovers and security systems.

About $3 million will go for technology replacement and data security and about $6 million will be spent on outdoor learning spaces, including playground replacement at all five elementary schools, outdoor classroom pavilions at each building, and a new high school track along with the addition of a synthetic turf field.

The project uses about $770,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and it is expected state aid will cover about two-thirds of the costs. The district has estimated a homeowner with a median assessment of $299,000 would see a tax increase of $59.60 per year.

Six school board members gathered in the Guilderland Elementary gym to learn the results as assistant superintendents Neil Sanders and Regan Johnson worked in the school office, tallying the results that came in from the five elementary-school polling places.

Rather than following the protocol of the last two decades for school votes, where Sanders would appear in the school gym to read the final tally, this time he logged the results as they came in to a Google Doc, which was displayed on Wiles’s laptop on a table in the gym.

Pine Bush Elementary School was the first result to show up, just 10 minutes after polls had closed at 9 p.m., with a solid win for the project: 281 to 105.

Early on, some of the board members worried how the vote would go, particularly in Altamont, as a handful of residents there had raised concerns about health, safety, and environmental issues with the synthetic turf field.

So many people had spoken in support of the $2.5 million synthetic turf field at the board’s July 27 meeting — coaches, athletes, parents, sports boosters — that several board members, also mindful of one-time federal pandemic funds, favored adding to the project, which they did.

All eight of the board members present at the Aug. 10 meeting voted in favor of the plan, and subsequently wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor supporting it on Sept. 30 as letters were also published by members of  a recently formed Plastics-Free Future group, inspired by a Bennington College course taught by Judith Enck — an environmentalist who was a regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration.

The Oct. 7 edition of The Enterprise had letters from parents, a student, and a coach all in favor of the new field. 

Altamont’s vote was closer than in the other four polling places, but the project passed there, 204 to 181.

“Holy cow, Altamont; I can’t believe it,” said board member Blanca Gonzalez-Parker on seeing the results.

The last tally to be posted was for Westmere Elementary School.

Kim Blasiak, who was just appointed to the school board on Oct. 5, and Gonzalez-Parker were riveted on the computer screen as the cursor moved to the Westmere column.

“C’mon Neil, press the button,” urged Blasiak.

“Neil, speak to us,” urged Gonzalez-Parker.

At 9:28 p.m., once the last number was up — the final tally was 1,310 to 742 — Blasiak said, “I’m going to cry, I’m so happy.”

“This is like the ball dropping ...,” said Gonzalez-Parker. “I’m just super thankful to the voters.”

Board member Judy Slack said of the changes the capital project will bring, “It’s things the kids can feel … and it’s an up for the teachers, too.”

“It’s a game-changer,” Wiles concluded.

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