G’town mulls multi-million capital project

Board sets October 29 special meeting to discuss spending

GERMANTOWN—The Community Facilities Committee recommended “priority” capital projects totaling $4.7 million at the October 8 Germantown Central School District Board of Education meeting.

Teresa Pulver reported for the committee, which consisted of 14 community members plus, as advisors, Superintendent Susan Brown, chief custodian James Palmieri and David Sammel of Sammel Associates, district architects.

The committee has been meeting two or three times a month since February. Members met with numerous school and community organizations and drew up a wish list of $20 million in projects, including a swimming pool.

Then committee members evaluated the projects and set priorities, coming up with two lists of recommended projects, one in the category of maintenance and safety, and the other efficiency, wellness, athletics, programming and arts projects. The swimming pool fell to the cutting room floor.

All of the recommended projects are listed, with their total costs, on the district website, germantowncsd.org. Click on “district” and on “Community Facilities Committee.”

Under Maintenance and Safety are 14 projects, starting with “sewer to Route 9G” ($114,048) and ending with “renovate existing stage” ($142,460).

Under Efficiency, Wellness, etc., are another 14 projects, everything from improving the air quality inside the building to creating a community walking path outdoors, around the athletic fields ($35,640).

The Optional Project, a new auditorium, drew the most discussion October 8. The committee agreed, said the report, that the school and the community at large would benefit from a new auditorium. This would be added on the east side or the west side of the school. The current auditorium, called the cafetorium because of its dual use, seats 300.

The committee was uncertain, however, “as to what size/cost auditorium” district voters would agree to pay for. To that end, three options were suggested.

Option 1 creates an auditorium of about 360 seats for $4.2 million. Option 3 builds an auditorium of about 500 seats for $8 million. Option 2 is “something between Option 1 and 3,” and not yet described.

The sense of the board was that the proposed renovation of the existing stage, including rigging and lights, was necessary and worth supporting.

Hampering the auditorium discussion, however, was a lack of numbers; no one had an average head count of attendees at school events. The cafetorium is used for school assemblies, spelling bees, a reading festival, movies, Drama Club productions and scout ceremonies. Larger events that other schools host but Germantown can’t, such as a jazz festival, were mentioned.

“We don’t want to build something that’s not big enough,” said board member Brittany DuFresne. “It’s stupid that we built a gym without bleachers.” She suggested compiling a list of events, with numbers, as a “selling point.”

Ms. Pulver agreed to get those statistics, adding, “If we have a larger auditorium, we’ll have more events.”

“We don’t need an auditorium for a school of 600 kids,” said board member Jeremy Smith. (In all 12 grades, the district has about 600 students.) A swimming pool, he said, was more important. “Every kid should learn to swim. In Germantown, kids learn in a polluted lake,” he said, referring to the lake on Palatine Park Road where summer swimming lessons were given until last year, when the lake was being cleaned of invasive plants, not pollution.

“The auditorium would have some use, but the pool could pay for itself, the whole community could use it. The arts are important,” he added, “but a swimming pool is better.”

Board president Ronald Moore III disagreed. “The arts are more important for the rest of a graduate’s life” than knowing how to swim, he said.

“Safety is most important,” said board member Tammi Kellenbenz. “We must maintain the building. I went to a school with a pool and we didn’t use it, the community didn’t use it.” Now, she added, she teaches in a district larger than Germantown, “and we don’t offer what Germantown does.”

“Two years ago we were broke and the school was closing,” said board member Ralph DelPozzo. “Now we’re looking at a $9 million addition.”

Mr. Sammel, the architect, went over payment. The $11.6 million debt from the current, 1999 capital project, on which payments are made annually, will be paid off in 2020. The $4.7 million bond, payable over 15 years, would maintain debt service below the existing level.

Also, $50,000 could be applied to the project from the district’s capital reserve. State aid would equal 58.8% of the cost, and the estimated local share for the $4.7 million project would be $145,037 per year. This would result in an estimated tax impact of $0.248 and an estimated net tax increase of ($0.128).

“Suppose in two or three years from now the economy tanks and the state doesn’t give as much?” asked Mr. DelPozzo.

“It’s not an absolute, but the state has never changed the aid on a capital project,” said Mr. Sammel.

February 2015 is the earliest that the district would vote on this capital project. Construction would take three years—the state reviews all designs, said Mr. Sammel. The bond would be retired in 2032.

After discussing the best way to get further input from the community, the board set a special meeting for Wednesday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m. The only agenda item is the capital project. Chairs will be set out in the cafetorium, in expectation of a crowd.

 

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