$31M capital project aims to improve student safety, repair and update GCSD’s seven schools

— From Demian Singleton
The Guilderland school district’s assistant superintendent for instruction sent this image as an example of the way that a modern lab might be conducive to collaborating; designing and carrying out experiments; analyzing results; and solving problems. 

GUILDERLAND — In presenting residents with a reduced capital project in May, after a narrow defeat last October, the school district is seeking balance. The cost has been reduced by 28 percent, from $42.7 million to $30.6 million.

“We’re a public school; we still want to be welcoming. It’s a balance, between nothing, and having a gun turret on the roof,” said Clifford Nooney, the director of facilities for the Guilderland school district, last Friday.

Nooney was talking about some of the items that he says are necessary for student safety that are still included in the district’s reduced capital-construction project. Nooney took The Enterprise on a tour on Feb. 22 — when the hallways and classrooms were empty for winter break — of some of the items still included in the project.

Since the bond defeat, school leaders have also talked of balancing student needs with what taxpayers will support.

The school board will hold a community question-and-answer session on March 12. There, Nooney said, district officials and school-board members will explain “what the limitations of the current facilities are and how it could be better with upgraded equipment.” He added, “It’s not for me to say what this community wants the future to look like.”

The school board plans to finalize, on March 19, the items to be included in the reduced bond project, which it will bring to voters on May 21, the state-set date for school board and budget elections. On that same date, Guilderland school district voters will also be deciding on a library budget and an $8 million project to upgrade the public library.

The items still included are needed, Nooney said, “to maintain a safe, comfortable, future-ready school district.”

The original $42.7 bond proposal went to voters on Oct. 16, 2018 and was defeated by 58 votes. The district has set aside $3.1 million for the $30.6 million project. Of the remaining amount to be borrowed, state aid is expected to cover $22.5 million, according to Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

If the $30.6-million plan passes, a homeowner in a $326,000 home — the median price in Guilderland — would pay taxes annually of $65 for the 15-year life of the bond. That amount is down from $103 annually, which would have been the amount with the original proposal — roughly a 37-percent decrease.

Asked why taxes would be reduced by a larger percentage than the project cost, Sanders explained, “Although the project cost has been reduced by $12.1 million we are still applying $3.1 million from the capital reserve. That same $3.1 million offset against a smaller project amount yields a greater proportional benefit to  taxpayers.”



The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
The gang-shower concept — where students bathe without privacy — is outdated and “no longer flies,” says Clifford Nooney, director of facilities.



The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Holes like these on the floor of a girls’ bathroom in the high school’s foreign-language wing are common throughout the wing, which for years has been showing signs of significant settling, according to facilities director Clifford Nooney. 


Improving safety

On the recent tour, Nooney outlined some of the items still in the reduced bond project that he said are related to improving safety:

— Updating the communications, phone, and public-address systems.

These systems are currently not linked, Nooney said. “It’s a mishmash now,” he said, “different systems, different ages. The newer systems give us many more options.”

If, for instance, the high-school principal wants to do a lockdown but allow only members of the Guilderland Police Department to swipe into the school’s locked doors, he can, with the proposed new system, set those parameters with a push of a button on an application on his cell phone, Nooney said.

A new system would also be able to add, for instance, flashing lights in parts of the building that are louder, such as the wood shop, to alert people faster. In addition, the new system could also be used to put flashing lights on the outside of the building during a true lockdown, to warn people to stay away.

“Fast, effective communication is one of the key security components,” Nooney said.

He noted that fire and public-address systems need to be integrated by code. “Right now, they are not integrated,” he said.

The total cost of replacing the telephone, fire-alarm, and public-address systems throughout the district’s seven schools is estimated at $1.4 million.

— Updating and modernizing 12 high-school science labs.

The gas and water lines in the science labs have not been touched since the high school was built more than 50 years ago, said Demian Singleton, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, this week. The total cost of work to modernize the high-school labs, which is intended to make them safer and more up-to-date, is $2.9 million.

— Placing impact-resistant security film over the glass on all the doors.

Security film is intended to slow down an intruder bent on getting into school entrances, which are locked all day in all seven schools, by smashing windows on or next to the doors. Currently, the main entrances at all seven schools are equipped with this film. This item in the capital-construction project would add the film to all of the other doors — side and back doors, and the glass beside them — at all of the schools. Videos advertising these products show intruders with baseball bats or guns taking several minutes longer to gain access.

The projected cost of the security film — which, over all seven schools combined, totals $171,000 — is based on the square-foot price, Nooney said.

Nooney conceded that security film would not help in the case of an attack from within, by, for instance, a student already inside the school. He personally does not think the district needs metal detectors at the entrances to guard against this, he said, adding, “But it’s not up to me to decide.”

Nooney said he believes the district takes a “very proactive but conservative approach” to security.

School-board member Timothy Horan mentioned at the Feb. 11 school-board meeting that he plans to present his concerns about security film at an upcoming meeting.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
The main parking lot and a portion of the east parking lot are included in the reduced capital-construction proposal. Facilities team leader Mark Murray points at one of the many potholes that he says need to be dealt with in a way that is more comprehensive and more effective than just filling them in again and again. 



The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
The science labs at Guilderland High School are vintage 1960s and have never been updated; they are not indicative of what students will see in college or industry, say district officials. 



Repairing or replacing

Nooney highlighted these items in need of repair or replacement:

— Cracks across hallway floors and cracks and holes along the bottom edges of walls and beside expansion joints in the high school’s foreign-language wing.

The foreign-language wing of the high school, corridor D1, has been showing evidence for years of significant settlement, said Nooney, with cracks in the floors across the hallways, and cracks and holes around the expansion joints. Expansion joints, which stretch across the floor where two hallways or two large pieces of concrete meet, are meant to allow for expansion and contraction, or to connect an existing area to an addition.

“I’ve been watching this for a number of years,” said Nooney. “I’m not 100-percent sure of the cause. Could just be natural settlement. We’ve had a structural engineer look at it. I don’t deem that amount of settlement normal.”

Surface repair, which has been done many times, is not enough, said Nooney.

Facilities team leader Mark Murray, who came along on the Feb. 22 tour, pointed to a hole in the tiles next to an expansion joint and said, “We fixed this spot a year ago, and we leveled it off, and it keeps settling.”

Nooney added, “To do actual repair, we would have to cut it out, compact the soil underneath it, repour the concrete, and then redo the floor.”

Walking further along the same wing and pointing to a hole beside a different expansion joint, Nooney said, “We patch it and we patch it, but over time it starts to fail.”

To address this settlement issue, $560,199 is allotted in the new proposal.

— Roofing.

“When I came here in 2007, we had hallways lined with garbage cans catching water, and buckets in the classrooms. We are better now, but the whole point is not to let them get to such a point that it’s an emergency. It’s like with your roof at home,” Nooney said. He added, “Do you wait till you have 10 leaks, or do you say, ‘It’s been 25 years, and the roof is rated for 20 years?’”

The district has been re-roofing parts of each building in a “phased approach” for years, Nooney said. The district doesn’t try to replace the entire roof of any school at one time, because, he said, that would be “very costly and very disruptive.”

For instance, he said, at Pine Bush Elementary, the district’s newest school, the center section was reroofed as part of the last capital project. “Now we’re expanding out to the pods,” he said, citing the cost as $1.7 million for Pine Bush Elementary alone. A large section of Farnsworth Middle School’s roof is included in the May bond project, he said.

When thinking about the cost of a school roof, as compared to the roof of an ordinary homeowner, several factors need to be borne in mind, Nooney said. One is that the contractor working for a homeowner doesn’t need to pay workers prevailing wage.

Another is the way the roof is built. Most home roofs have tar paper and shingles, he said. The roofing at the high school, for instance, Nooney said, involves a steel deck, tapered insulation to give it the pitch to the roof drain, and a rubber membrane over the top. Some sections pitch out and off, but most pitch in, he said; the water goes into a drain and then into pipes that go through the building to the stormwater system.

Another factor is the scale of the building. The high school, for instance, he said, is almost 350,000 square feet.

The total amount of the roofs to be repaired, which are Altamont and Pine Bush elementary schools, the middle school, and the high school, is $4.4 million. No work is included for roofs at Lynnwood, Guilderland, or Westmere elementary schools.

— Track at the high school.  

According to Sanders, the track surface is a coating over an asphalt base; the surfacing will wear through over time and requires periodic replacement. The resurfacing, which is included in the proposal, is nearing the end of its useful life.

Replacement of the asphalt base has been deferred, to save costs. The asphalt base has moved and shifted over time, subjected to the weather and freeze-thaw cycles, and currently water ponds in certain sections.

Resurfacing the track “buys us a few years,” Nooney said.

He has split the necessary work on the track into two categories: resurfacing, which would be $249,000, is a top priority, necessary now, while replacing the asphalt underlayer of the track, which would cost another $210,000, is a secondary priority, to be deferred to a later time.

“My charge was to give choices. This is one of the choices I particularly don’t like,” he said of his own recommendation to do partial work on the track.

— Main gym floor at Farnsworth Middle School.

“There are big dead spots in there,” Nooney said of the main gym floor at Farnsworth. “Spots where a basketball won’t bounce.”

He said that the problem originated “way before my time” but that he thought a water leak many years ago had damaged the floor.     

The reduced proposal earmarks $431,192 for replacing the main gym floor and wall pads. Another $36,652 allocation would sand and refinish the floors of the two small gym spaces adjoining the main gym.

— Boilers and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units.

The reduced bond calls for replacing two of the three boilers at Farnsworth, Nooney said, as well as replacing boilers at the high school and at Lynnwood and Pine Bush elementary schools. Costs of replacement boilers total $1.3 million.

The original bond proposal had included first- and second-floor air-conditioning units at the middle school, but the reduced bond project has removed the first floor and included only the second floor. The first floor, which does not get as warm as the second floor, still would lack air-conditioning. Cutting the first floor air-conditioning saved $176,000, Nooney said.

Sanders said this week that many second-floor classrooms at Farnsworth already have air-conditioning and that the bond, if it passes, would air-condition the rest.

There is also “a large HVAC component in this building,” Nooney said of the high school. Portions of the high school are now air-conditioned, he said. The proposal would involve “just replacing the 1997-vintage HVAC equipment,” Nooney said.

Sanders gave the total cost in the proposal of boiler replacements, HVAC controllers, heating and ventilation units, and a chiller replacement at Farnsworth as $6.3 million.

— Parking-lot potholes.

Repairing the main parking lot and a portion of the east parking lot at the high school is included in the reduced proposal.

“People would see that as routine maintenance, and we do do routine maintenance on it every year. But it gets to a point, just like with roads, that it’s not cost-effective to keep filling in, and we’ve got to do major repairs,” said Murray.

“If the base is good under this parking lot, we would do a top mill. They would mill off like two inches on the top, and we would replace that,” Murray said of the high school’s main lot.


Nooney said these facilities need to be updated:

— Showers and lockers in the high school’s east gym boys’ and girls’ locker rooms.

The reduced proposal calls for doing away with what Nooney called “the gang-shower concept from the 1960s,” which he said “no longer flies.” Students had showered together in a single, large space.

Likewise, the small lockers in the locker rooms are outdated, Nooney said. “Our kids these days carry everything with them, so these little lockers don’t work.”

The plan is to create semi-private showers and semi-private changing areas, he said.

The changing areas would give people options, “so that if people aren’t comfortable, for whatever reason, with changing their clothes in a common area, they can use those.”

Nooney compared the changing areas to toilet stalls without the toilets.

In the new proposal, this work, including new toilet stalls, is estimated at $467,005.

— The science labs and attached classrooms mentioned above in safety also fit into this category.

In addition to updating the utilities that serve these labs, the labs would be updated in various ways: by removing walls to create lab-classrooms that combine space for experiments with space for collaborating, designing, and analyzing, and by reconfiguring the lab spaces themselves.

“Today’s science class is not the same old science class that we’ve known forever,” said Singleton.

“There needs to be greater flexibility than just a bunch of lab benches bolted to the floor,” said Singleton, adding that that model is “not conducive to collaboration and design.”

“We need some fixed spaces but need to have them be more flexible, to get kids to go from designing an experiment to carrying it out,” Singleton said.

The high school’s 1960s-vintage laboratories are “not reflective of what they will see in college or industry; we’re still very much operating in a past view of science,” Singleton said.

The original bond project had included “flexible furniture” for some classrooms in all schools, which would have included desks that could be used traditionally or raised for use as stand-up desks; curved desks that could be fitted together like interlocking puzzle pieces, or moved apart; ottomans that could double as tables when children want to sit on the floor, or as chairs; and backless stools that could lean and tilt.

All of that flexible furniture has been cut from the reduced proposal.

Joined: 08/09/2018 - 21:41
Security should be the focus of any new tax increase

We should not be raising taxes. District taxes are already among the highest in the area and the country. Normal maintenance must be covered under the current revenue stream and if not, our tax dollars have not been properly apportioned. I would consider a proposal limited to security concerns, since safety is a new consideration and likely not covered, entirely, by current revenue.

More Guilderland News

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.