Voters say yes to $20M BKW capital project

The Enterprise - H. Rose Schneider

Round of applause: Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent Timothy Mundell claps after learning a referendum for a $20 million capital project to improve infrastructure and technology on campus passes.

BERNE — On Nov. 2, Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District residents gave a resounding “yes”  to a $19.8 million bond to fund infrastructure, technology, and design improvements at the two buildings on the district’s campus.

Out of 673 votes cast, there were 449 “yes” votes and 224 “no” votes  for a $14.8 million project, and 427 “yes” votes, 240 “no” votes, and 58 abstentions for an additional $5 million for the project.

District Superintendent Timothy Mundell said that he was thankful to those who voted and excited to begin the project. The next step will include further meetings with the district’s architect, he said.

The project puts $14.8 million toward the elementary school and $5 million toward the secondary school. Elementary school funding will support infrastructure repairs, which became highlighted after a half-a-century old boiler broke and had to be replaced. The school will also replace the less efficient steam heating system with a water heating system in the elementary school.

The project will also fund classroom renovations; the administration says it makes more sense if the rooms are torn apart anyway for infrastructure repair. Other improvements will be made in building security and technology.

Funding for the secondary school was suggested by Board President Matthew Tedeschi as a way to ensure that elementary school students leaving for the secondary school would have similarly upgraded technology as in the elementary school.

However, the proposition does not state the district must spend the funds exclusively on these proposed ideas. According to Mundell, the referendum for the proposed capital project includes the phrase “as may be determined by the board of education” which means the board will be able to spend the funds where needed. Recently, a broken boiler could not be funded from finances left over from the last capital project.

About 80 percent of the project will be funded by state aid, leaving $4 million for the school district to cover; $2 million of that will be covered by the district’s reserve funds, leaving $2 million to be covered by the taxpayers in the form of bond payments over the course of 18 years. At the school board meeting on Oct. 16, Jeanine Caruso of the auditing firm Fiscal Advisors & Marketing said that the greatest increase for property tax rates would be $12 for a $100,000 home, or $1 a month.

“The district is in a wonderful position,” she said at the meeting.

 

 

In 2025, Berne-Knox-Westerlo will also be retiring all of its debt — currently $10.3 million for three outstanding bonds. If the district weren’t taking  on any other debt, it would receive less state aid, as a district’s debt is a part of a formula for calculating aid that allows a school to receive more of it, said the district’s business manager, Stacy King-McElhiney, to The Enterprise in September.

BKW has been working diligently to drum up support for the project. Between August and November of this year, about a third of the news bulletins published on the district website were about the capital project and its benefits. On the district’s Facebook page are several videos both promoting the project and answering questions about the project for viewers.

The project has also been consistently discussed and debated at school board meetings, with the cost the board has asked for the project varying from $13 million to $20 million. Board member Lillian Sisson-Chrysler had balked in the past at the high numbers, voting “no” to put the proposal to a vote, while Tedeschi had stridently defended the project as a means of supporting students.

Tedeschi said Thursday night that  he was happy with the results, saying it was the community’s way of “sending a message.”

“This solidifies the vision that we have,” he said.

He and fellow board members Kimberly Lovell and Nathan Elble voted “yes” to put the project to a vote, while board member Helen Lounsbury abstained, saying she wanted to support education with the upgrades, but was wary of the financing of the project and how that would affect taxpayers. Before the votes were counted, Lounsbury said she was “uncomfortable” with the plan for this reason, and would like more information given for herself and the voters.

Elble and Lovell, both parents of children attending the elementary school, said they were happy to have the project approved, but noted that the needed repairs and upgrades did not reflect on other aspects of the district. Elble described the school as having “great students, great staff, substandard facilities.”

“It’s an important part,” said Lovell, of the project. “It’s not the only part.”

 

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