GCSD presents details on $18M upgrades

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Ready to answer questions: At the dais for Tuesday’s informational session on a proposed $18.2 million upgrade to Guilderland schools are, from left, Superintendent Marie Wiles; Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders; Daniel Woodside, the managing principal with CSArch Architecture, which is handling the project; Clifford Nooney, the district’s director of physical plant management; Alicia Rizzo, Lynnwood Elementary School principal; Michael Laster, Farnsworth Middle School principal; and Thomas Lutsic, Guilderland High school principal. Michael Andrews, project architect, was also on the panel. Amy McGeady, who handles public relations for the district, is at the podium behind them, soliciting questions from the sparse audience. Projected on the screen in back is a picture of what Sanders described as “alligatored” pavement in need of replacement.

GUILDERLAND — On Tuesday, more school leaders than district residents showed up for a forum where detailed information was presented on a proposed $18.2 million upgrade to Guilderland schools.

“We’re not sure why it’s so sparse,” Superintendent Marie Wiles said after the meeting. Seven people had signed up to attend, she reported.

“We’ve talked about this a lot,” Wiles said, noting teams had gone to PTA meetings at the district’s schools.

“Not much in this project could be considered controversial,” Wiles concluded. “These are all items we have to do.”

School-district residents will go to the polls on Thursday, Nov. 14, to vote on two propositions:

— A $17.3 million project to update Guilderland’s seven school buildings and improve security and teaching technology; and

— An $846,300 plan to renovate the high school auditorium and better light the football field.

If the public approves both propositions, by a simple majority, a Guilderland resident living in a home with a median assessment of $246,500 would pay an estimated $68 annually in taxes for the project over the 15 years of the bond — $65 for the first proposition and $3 for the second.

The second project, for the high school auditorium and football field lights, will be undertaken only if both propositions pass.

The total cost, with interest, for both projects is about $23.7 million. State aid will cover 56 percent, or $13.3 million, leaving 44 percent or $10.4 million to be paid by local taxes.

As enrollment declines at Guilderland, the district has hired a consultant to study building capacity at all seven schools. Wiles said she hopes to have the consultant’s report, with six or seven recommendations, by this winter or early spring. Formal focus groups will then be held to determine which recommendation is the most viable.

Wiles noted it would be ideal to have had the capacity study completed before voting on the capital project, but went on, “We will have options before we bid any work.” She also said many items have to be done “no matter what.”

If the propositions pass, Wiles said, approval by the State Education Department is expected by the end of 2014, and bids would be awarded between January and March of 2015. The first phase of construction would take place in the summer of 2015 and the second phase the following year.

“If it doesn’t pass, then what?” asked district resident and parent, Karen Covert-Jones.

“We couldn’t handle this magnitude of work in an annual operational budget,” answered Clifford Nooney, the district’s director of physical plant management, suggesting there could be another vote.

Daniel Woodside, the managing principal with CSArch Architecture, which is handling the project, answered, “We don’t want to be caught in an emergency situation…This district has been good about being proactive.”

The bulk of the first proposition, about $14 million, is to renovate the electrical, heating and ventilation, roofing, plumbing, and site systems at the district’s schools. “That’s the heart of the project,” said Wiles. “We want to be prepared,” she went on, noting that emergency repairs would interrupt schooling.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders went over the repairs or replacement planned for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems at various schools as well as outdoor and indoor upgrades. The scope of the work and related costs are detailed at the district’s website, www.guilderlandschools.org.

Sanders noted that some of the upgrades, such as boiler replacement, would increase energy efficiency, saving the district money in the long run.

The second largest expense — $1.5 million — is for safety and security improvements.

This includes $593,000 to restructure school lobbies, with the biggest changes at Guilderland Elementary and the high school, so that there are double sets of doors. Visitors will enter a door into a vestibule, where staff can see them, before they open a second door into the school.

The security portion of the plan also includes $393,900 for office and classroom locksets that can be quickly locked from the inside; $259,000 to add more surveillance cameras; $177,500 for electronic swipe card systems; $31,300 for computer server upgrades for the more “robust” safety system; and $28,300 for visitor management tracking software, Sanders said.

The software system, he explained, will scan a visitor’s driver’s license and let staff know, for example, if the visitor is a convicted sex offender. It would be possible, too, during after-hours use of the schools to code a group’s cards — say, basketball players at Westmere Elementary — for a particular time and day of the week, ensuring they were admitted only then.

Finally, $1.8 million of the first proposition is for technology infrastructure and program upgrades “preparing students to be able to compete and act in a technically savvy world,” said Wiles.

She stressed that it was not “gadgetry,” but rather “the power behind gadgetry.”

The largest portion of this — $618,800 — will go for “mobile labs,” Sanders said, describing 30 laptop computers that are wheeled to classrooms on a cart.

Joseph Reilly, the district’s director of technology, said that, if the maintenance department is considered the backbone of a school district, technology is its circulation system.

“Sending our kids out into the world well prepared is provided for in this proposition,” he said.

The second proposition includes $553,800 to renovate the auditorium and $292,500 to replace wooden light poles with steel poles and better lights at the football field.

Regan Johnson, the district’s athletic director, said wind blows constantly on the field.

“When the wind blows, I always know where I’m standing, just in case,” he said to gales of laughter from the score of listeners Tuesday night.

The wood poles, which, he said, attract insects, were installed in 1986.

Lori Hershenhart, Guilderland’s music director, said the auditorium is used two out of four periods.

“Should I say it’s fought over?” she asked.

The high school principal, Thomas Lutsic, replied that was a “good word” to describe it.

As an example of its over-use, Hershenhart said, with the high school play in two weeks, the orchestra was pushed to rehearse in the band room, which pushed the band into the chorus room.

She also said the lighting is so poor a child can’t read from an audience seat, and that the sound system, last added to in 2001, is “rolled in and out,” for example to the gym for concerts.

Wiles said that the facilities committee — made up of district staff, community members, and school board members — came up with the second proposition as a compromise. “The guts” of the upgrades, she said, are the infrastructure improvements and there was worry the auditorium and field lighting might be deemed “frivolous,” she said.

The vote on both propositions will take place on Nov. 14 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents vote in one of five elementary schools, whichever district they live in.

Any United States citizen, 18 or older, who has lived in the school district for at least 30 days before Nov. 14 is eligible to vote. Residents who are not registered to vote may do so on Nov. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at any of the elementary schools or from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the district office at 8 School Road in Guilderland Center, or through the Albany County Board of Elections.

Applications for absentee ballots, for residents who will be out of town on Nov. 14 or who are unable to vote because of illness or a disability, are available through the district website or by calling the district clerk, Linda Livingston, at 456-2000, ext. 3125.

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