VCSD super presents $8M capital project

VOORHEESVILLE — Superintendent Brian Hunt presented the school board with an updated capital-project plan at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 11.

The board will vote in March 2018 on authorizing the capital project, it would then be presented to the voters in May 2018.

The project is estimated to cost about $8 million.  

The project includes, among other things:

— New boilers for both schools, estimated to cost $1,493,000;

— An expansion and renovation of two high school Earth-science labs, at an estimated cost of $1,000,000;

— A renovation of the middle school technology lab, estimated at $1,000,000;

— A new roof on the older section of the elementary school, estimated to cost $511,000;

— New windows in the older section of the high school, estimated at $533,000; and

— An upgrade to the middle and high school fire-alarm system and emergency lights in the high school, estimated to cost $693,000.

Of that $8 million, 60 percent of the cost, about $4.8 million, would be covered by the state, leaving the district’s share of the project at $3.2 million, of which $2.1 million will be paid for with capital reserves, leaving about $1.1 million that needs to be financed by bonds.  

The district expects to pay back the bond at $101,000 per year for 15 years.

At the meeting, Hunt said he used a higher interest rate to calculate how much the district has to pay back “because the trend is for interest rates to go higher — so we want to be conservative.”

Hunt said that the project was sized appropriately for what the district can afford.

“The biggest thing is that we have adequate reserves. The $2.1 million is a substantial reserve for an $8 million project — that is what makes the project affordable,” he said.

Lessons learned

Fiscally, the district is being more cautious due to past experience.

The 2001 capital project built the middle school, the performing arts center, the high school gym, and the new pool, and purchased the satellite athletic fields for a total project cost of $17.3 million. Of that, $16,506,000 had to be bonded, with an additional bonding of $224,000 to purchase the land for the fields. Only $600,000 in reserves were applied to the project.

The cost to service the district’s debt (the amount of money used to pay back loans) accounted for 6 percent of the total budget in 2000-01.

By the following year, 2001-02, servicing the debt accounted for 14 percent of the district’s budget.

In one four-year period, 2002 to 2006, there was a cumulative increase in the tax levy of 34 percent.

It took until 2016-17 for debt service as a percentage of the total budget to return to a pre-2001 level.

For the current capital plan, servicing the district’s debt would be about 5 percent of its budget.

Garage update

Hunt also updated the board on the plan to lease space at the Albany County Department of Public Works garage to house the district’s buses.

A former plan to build a new school-district garage came with a price tag of $6.8 million. In September, school leaders said that the district would save taxpayers millions of dollars over 30 years by leasing space in the county’s nearby garage, which is a short distance along Route 85A from the two schools.

Hunt said, because it’s a county facility, the school district will fund upgrades to the garage through grants.

“We will not spend district dollars on someone else’s facility,” he said.

The district will apply for a grant from the New York State Department of State that would pay to pave an area to park buses, he said.

Joe Dragone, senior executive officer at the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, who Hunt had previously met with, is on the board of the Regional Economic Development Commission, and believes he can help obtain the grant, Hunt said.

Hunt and Lisa Ramundo, the county’s commissioner for public works, met with Doug Miller, New Scotland’s safety officer, and discussed applying for a Department of Homeland Security grant to pay for fencing and security cameras for the bus parking area, he said.

Hunt and Francis Rielly, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, met with representatives from Mosaic Associates, an architectural firm, about having Mosaic do a feasibility study for the project. Hunt said the study gives hard data making it more likely to get grants.

The feasibility study will include specifics on how paving will be done as well as estimating cost, and “most importantly the cost savings of this project as compared to the district building a new bus garage,” Hunt said.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Recognized Joe McDonald, a parent in the district as well as a robotics mentor, who applied and received a $5,000 grant from Bechtel Corporation for the robotics club;

— Heard from Athletic Director Joseph Sapienza, who wanted to recognize student-athlete P.J. Parker for being named the Section 2 Class B Goalkeeper of the Year, Section 2 Class C placekicker in football, and the Times Union all-area small-school first-team punter in football. Parker is a four-sport athlete who has achieved some kind of all-star status in all four sports;

— Congratulated Lindsey Odorizzi, a junior, and Marius Mazzeo, freshman, who participated in a public art contest where they were tasked to design a billboard with an anti-bullying message. Odorizzi came in second place; her design will be on the digital display along Interstate 90 starting Jan. 1. Mazzeo’s work will also appear on the digital display;

— Approved an amendment to the Negative Balance on School Meals Policy. Students who forget their lunches can now charge regular meals, no snacks, even when their account balance is negative; and

— Heard from board members Cindy Monaghan and Doreen Saia, who praised the district’s decision to waive the charge for admission to athletic events and drama-club productions. The two had recently worked at the booster table for a basketball game and said that parents were pleasantly surprised and grateful not to be charged, which, they said, made the game a family event.

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