G’town school hands bond act to voters

GERMANTOWN—The Board of Education of the Germantown Central School District voted at their January 14 meeting to put an $11.3-million capital project before district voters. The district vote is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10.

The project budget consists of 28 items. The most expensive individual item is a $6.2-million auditorium with about 400 seats. This would be added to the school building on the east side of the Main Street entrance and parking.

The vote was unanimous from the board members present; absent was Jeremy Smith, who at past board meetings has expressed reservations about the district building a new auditorium.

Reached after the meeting, Mr. Smith said he considered the new auditorium “nice to have but not necessary.” He said he would have supported renovating the existing cafetorium, which is currently used as a practice/rehearsal/performance/dining space, into an auditorium, with tiered seating and an improved stage.

Sammel Architecture of Somers, the district’s architect, put together the preliminary budget for the referendum. Each of 27 items consists of a construction budget plus potential add-ons for a total cost. The goal is to overestimate, rather than underestimate costs, to avoid unpleasant surprises. For example, creating a science laboratory in the elementary school has a construction budget of $20,000, plus 10% ($2,000) design contingency, 8% ($1,760) construction contingency, 20% soft costs (4,752) for a total of $28,512.

The science lab is the least expensive item in the budget. The only other item over $1 million is renovating the baseball and softball fields, for a total cost of $1,054,944.

All facts and figures can be found on the district website, germantowncsd.org. Click on “District” at the top, and within that, on “Community Facilities Committee.” The information provided includes the estimated debt service as prepared by Fiscal Advisors & Marketing, Inc., of Syracuse.

The $11.6-million current debt from the 1999 capital project on which payments are made annually, will be paid off in 2020. If the plan receives the approval of voters and the state Education Department, construction would begin in the spring or summer of 2016.

The district voted last June to establish a $500,000 District-wide Renovations, Reconstruction, Construction and Improvement Reserve Fund, to be transferred from the unassigned fund balance for the 2013-14 school year. That money can be used for the new project. State aid would equal 58.8% of the project’s cost. The estimated local share, paid for by the sale of bonds, would average $429,342 per year. The new bond would result in debt service below the existing level.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to get accurate information to the public,” said Superintendent Susan Brown after the meeting. “The Community Facilities Committee worked very hard, with input from a variety of stakeholder groups, to develop a list of what needs to be done in the building.”

The steady decline in the student population—from 772 in 2001-02 to the current 598—was not related to the proposed projects, including the auditorium, said Ms. Brown. “Of course we watch our enrollment,” she said. The district does a projection every two years and the last one, in 2012-13, predicted the current student population.

But numerous items on the proposed list are aimed at “keeping our largest asset up to date”—maintaining it and keeping the school safe and secure for the entire district population. Students come from all or parts of six towns: Germantown, Livingston, Clermont, Gallatin, Ancram and Taghkanic.

“Many of the stakeholder groups pointed out that the cafetorium has been repaired and refurbished many times and that sharing that room for so many activities does affect the students, staff and community,” said Ms. Brown.

The cafetorium provides an elementary school gym with no spectator space. It is also the school’s theater, with a stage, but band rooms and practice rooms are at the other end of the building. Kitchen renovation ($213,840) is on the project list, and with that, the cafetorium use can be improved also, said Ms. Brown.

“The auditorium affects the total district population,” she said. “We’re proud of our school; it’s the center of our community, with comprehensive offerings to children from 3 to 18 years. We would love to have an auditorium that kids can be proud of, that will highlight their performances, their music and theater and curriculum.”

During past meetings, the board had discussed separating the auditorium from the rest of the projects and presenting two resolutions, but there was no sign of that on January 14. “I can’t answer for the entire board, but I think the majority felt that the Community Facilities Committee represented the community—all the stakeholders,” board president Ronald Moore said after the meeting. “And the committee members wanted a new auditorium.

“Personally,” he added, “I think we’re long overdue for these upgrades.”

“I’m very concerned about what Governor Cuomo will do about education in his new term,” said Mr. Smith. “I have a terrible suspicion that the state will go after small school districts like ours. We offer a good education, but it needs to be a superior education so that we can stay a small, independent school.”

“The board is envisioning a comprehensive public school district,” said James Campion, a parent of three students in the district, who regularly attends school board meetings. “They’re looking at safety, security, energy management and programming. It’s all critical.”

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