G’town voters have say on $11M school plan Tuesday

GERMANTOWN—District voters go to the polls next Tuesday, March 10 in a referendum on an $11.3-million capital project.

The project consists of 26 individual items and a 27th for a new auditorium, new band and theater arts rooms, restrooms, adding spectator seating to the elementary school gymnasium and relocating the outdoor basketball court and playground. All improvements are projected to be complete in the fall of 2018.

A newsletter that lists the 27 items, with costs, was mailed to each household in the district. The newsletter, along with site plan drawings and detailed financial information, can be found on the district’s website, germantowncsd.org. Click on “District” and “Community Facilities Committee” for links to the information.

The $11.3-million price tag is considered the actual total cost, since it includes estimates for price increases during the course of the work. Exactly $798,405 is included for “design contingency” and another $702,596 for “construction contingency.” “Soft costs”—those not directly part of design and construction—are estimated at $1,897,009. The goal is to overestimate, rather than underestimate, costs, to avoid unpleasant surprises.

The newsletter notes three sources of payment. The state Education Department reimburses school districts for capital construction projects. Based on the 27 projects proposed, the district anticipates receiving 58.8%, of the total cost, more than $6.4 million in state aid.

The district established a capital reserve fund, and if the project is approved, it will use $500,000 from that fund.

The district would borrow money over a 20-year period to match the aid being paid back. The property tax increase for this project would be 36.7 cents per $1,000 of full value. The example used is a resident with a home assessed $200,000 who would pay, on average, an additional $6.12 per month in school property taxes, or $73.40 per year, beginning in 2021. The statewide property tax cap does not apply to the local share of this project, which is considered a capital exclusion.

The district has not proposed a referendum like this for a capital project in almost 15 years, according to the newsletter. Currently, the district is retiring debt service on previous borrowing. First borrowing on the new project would begin in 2016 and continue for 20 years.

Putting off the new project until the current bond is paid off risks higher construction costs, higher interest rates and the failure of some building systems that would then have to be repaired or replaced at a direct cost to residents, without state aid.

While the student population has slowly but steadily declined in the last 12 years, a recent study shows that it could increase. The study examined births within the district, households with children moving into the district and students enrolled in nonpublic schools, and it projected that K-12 enrollment could increase by more than 100 students in the next five years.

The money proposed for the capital project cannot be used to hire more teachers. The state aid for this project is specific to building purposes.

Renovation of the existing performance areas would be less effective than building the new auditorium, and would still cost a lot of money, according to the district. With the new auditorium providing students with a safe and professional venue, the cafetorium could become a true cafeteria for all grades. Its stage would be repurposed as small-group space and storage.

This winter being what it is, and not over yet, the March 10 vote has a snow date: Thursday, March 12. Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. in the school lobby at 123 Main Street.



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