As upgrade work wraps up, Taconic Hills opens on time

CRARYVLE–ln spite of the recent heavy rains and having recently had nearly two-thirds of its grounds torn up for major construction, the Taconic Hills School District opened on time Wednesday with little disruption to the beginning of the school year.

“It was an aggressive schedule and it worked out. It was a little nerve wracking at times,” said Superintendent Mark Sposato, who had told the school board at last month’s meeting that the $13-million construction project was on time but could suffer a setback if weather interfered.

The project started at $15 million, but was cut when the district lost state aid during the spring budget season. It drew on $7.2 million in the district’s account designated for capital improvements. Until now the decade-old Craryville campus has had any major upgrades.

The project was paid for in part by $5.2 million borrowed through a bond paying 1%, or $51,855. The school district received a $500,000 grant from the state EXCEL program.

During July and August all parking lots, the elementary school playground and the football field were excavated to correct drainage problems. By Labor Day weekend, most of the parking lots had been repaved and repainted, and the football field was green. The campus will have 60 to 90 more parking places and an improved traffic route with separate bus and car driveways, features that should make it easier for parents to drop off and pick up their kids.

New handicapped accessible features include ramps in the parking lot, more handicapped parking places, automatic door opening devices at main entrances, ramps to bleacher seats at the football field and in the pool, and ADA compliant walkways near the athletic fields, playground and toilet facilities near the football field and girls’ soccer field.

Even though the school had passed inspection and been approved by the state, the parking areas and fields “were done wrong and weren’t draining properly,” said Dr. Sposato. The bleachers by the football field and in the pool were intended to be temporary but had never been replaced, he said. Underground drainage pipes had to be replaced and a retention pond was added south of the school buildings.

New windows by the major entrances comply with modern security protocols. The project also includes relocation an information technology (IT) suite, installation of hundreds of security cameras, and a new state-of-the-art phone system, and the installation of generators to allow the school to be a more effective Red Cross shelter when needed. LED lighting in the parking areas will save energy.

Roof repairs begun last summer will be complete this fall. Some classrooms still needed clocks and public address system speakers installed.

Work on the football field and playground, in addition to improving drainage, will insure that kids and athletes who fall are protected by a soft but resilient surface, the product of special stones and other buffering materials installed underneath the upper surface of turf in the field, and wood chips in the playground.

While the public and students were barred from the school this summer, 40 members of the school and administrative staff continued to work there.  School board meetings, which were held at the Copake Town Hall, will now resume at the school. Most construction, including the swimming pool bleachers, will be finished in a couple of weeks.

Also this week, the board announced a number of personnel changes at the school:

*High School Principal Kathy Cioppa tendered her resignation in July and has been replaced by former Assistant Principal Marie Digirolamo. James Buhrmaster, a former social studies teacher, will fill the post of assistant principal.

*Former business teacher Cybil Howard was appointed to the position of business manager after Krista DeRocha resigned. She comes to the position not through the traditional accounting education route, but said Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Sposato, “Her background as a business teacher helps give us credibility in a different way.”

*Brad Boyles, a 2005 graduate of Taconic Hills and a former student of Ms. Howard, who did his student teaching with her, will take over her courses. Her husband, Neil Howard, is principal of the middle school; both the couple’s children attend the Taconic Hills elementary and middle schools.

*James Derby, the school’s athletic director, will be assistant principal for the elementary school, a post that had gone unfilled, but was deemed necessary because of the high number of elementary students.

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