G’town school board ponders capital upgrades

GERMANTOWN—At its November 13 meeting, the Board of Education of the Germantown Central School District agreed to try to get a referendum for a capital improvement project on the May 2014 school vote ballot.

Board member Ralph DelPozzo said May was “out of the question,” but the consensus was otherwise.

The decision followed a presentation by David Sammel of Sammel Architecture PLLC. Mr. Sammel had discussed the district’s building needs with the board previously. His PowerPoint slide presentation at this week’s was different, he said, because it outlined the cost of the project.

The state Education Department requires each school district to have a five-year plan that is revised annually, Mr. Sammel began. Germantown’s Priority Projects list, based on its five-year plan, was some 16 items long, four of which have been accomplished (renovating the chemistry room, the maintenance garage and the kindergarten bathrooms, and removing an unused, decrepit chimney).

Remaining projects on a “dynamic list,” Mr. Sammel said, are renovations to the cafeteria, kitchen, auditorium, music room, boys and girls locker rooms and the gym floor in the high school; improving baseball and softball fields; paving a workout area; replacement of well controls and power, and well pressure tanks; resurfacing the Main Street parking lot and creating parking on Route 9G; and digital signs.

The reason for a capital project, in which the district would borrow to fund the work, is money, he said. The improvements cost too much for ordinary budget expenses, which must fall within the annual tax increase cap of 2%.

Planning this now makes sense, said Mr. Sammel, because borrowing is currently “very” inexpensive, the loan can be coordinated with completion of payment on existing debt, and a capital project takes a long time to plan and build. The time span includes community involvement, due diligence by the Board of Education and working around the educational program—most construction has to be done in the summer.

Mr. Sammel estimated costs for 12 elements of the project. These estimates included contingency costs (overages during construction), “soft” costs (attorney’s fees, bonding) and escalation to 2015 of 3.5%. For example, an estimate of $216,000 for the science wing roof increased, with contingencies, soft costs and escalation to a “worst-case” scenario of $324,019.

The total for the dozen different projects came in at $5.4 million or, after contingencies, soft costs and escalation, $8.1 million.

Mr. Sammel had drafted two timetables; the one the board is aiming at means starting now to develop the scope of work for a project that would be completed in September 2016. The total time to complete a capital project, said Mr. Sammel, is 30 to 37 months. In his alternate timetable, the public vote would take place in December 2014 and the project would be complete in September 2017.

The first step, the board agreed, was to form an advisory committee of community stakeholders. The board Facilities Committee plans to meet in December, with Mr. Sammel as advisor. At that time, the board will draw up a list of potential advisory committee members.

In other business, the board heard a presentation from Max Gradinger, a customer account executive from Monolith Solar Associates, LLC, of Rensselaer. The company, founded in 2008, designs, engineers and installs solar systems, from residential to big-box stores. It works with other local school districts, including Taconic Hills and Schodack, and with Columbia-Greene Community College.

Germantown, said Mr. Gradinger, uses 609,000 kilowatts a year. The 2,000-watt system that Monolith proposes would produce 240,000 kilowatts, depending on the sun, or 39% of the district’s annual usage. The district would use Monolith’s solar kilowatts first, National Grid power next. Over 20 years, Mr. Gradinger said, the district could save $122,000.

There are no installation costs for the district, Mr. Gradinger said; federal grants cover Monolith’s installation. The district pays only for the kilowatt-hours. Monolith owns the system, insuring it and monitoring it 24/7.

An educational component comes with the system. “We work with schools on curriculum,” said Mr. Gradinger, and teachers can use the Monolith website to exchange information.

The standard contract is 20 years. At the end of that, the district can start a new contract, purchase the system at market rate or have Monolith take it away.

The board also received, with thanks, a petition from Kylie Pudney, an eighth-grader, requesting a modified varsity soccer team for girls next fall. Kylie reported 100 signatures from parents and about 70 from students. Kylie has been playing soccer with the Southern Columbia team for nine years. Once in 7th grade, however, there was no school soccer for girls. That is, girls can play on the boys’ modified varsity soccer team, but they are asking for a team of their own.

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