The KCSD board of education voted unanimously last week to give the public a say on whether to approve a $4.23 million plan to convert the former Frank L. Meagher elementary into a pre-kindergarten hub and district headquarters.
With trustees Kathleen Collins and Danielle Guido absent, the board voted 7-0 in favor of presenting a referendum on the project alongside the district’s 2017-18 budget and school board voting at polling places on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Earlier this month, when school officials pitched a late-winter public referendum, Trustee James Michael said it should sync up with the district’s budget vote.
“I have a problem with the timing of the referendum,” Michael said at the board’s Nov. 1 meeting. “I think it’s too close to each other. The cost of the elections is $30,000. I think we should make it for May.”
At the time, District Superintendent Paul Padalino said waiting until May would make it unlikely work could start on Meagher until well past summer. But the idea of cost savings at the polls prevailed.
“After meeting with the architects and looking at what impact it would have on the timeline, we felt that the benefits of having it in May outweighed any impact that it would have on the timeline,” Padalino said. “Honestly, there’s some political detractors in putting out a resolution in March or something like that with people asking why we’d put it out two months before another vote. We decided to maybe kind of neutralize those concerns, and that it was more important than the month or two it would gain.”
In the proposal, as many as six classrooms could be renovated for use in a pre-K hub, though they could use fewer depending upon need. At present, the district is anticipating receiving $527,198 in state aid on the project, and using $2.68 million from a capital reserve fund, along with $1 million from the sale of the Cioni Building, the district’s current central office.
Cioni was officially on the market two years ago, receiving two bids it ultimately rejected. Though no longer officially for sale, Cioni received a $1 million offer earlier this year from Grupo Habita, a Mexican-based firm that designs and operates hotels, with its closest — and largest — the 56-room Hotel Americano in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Selling Cioni is integral to the plan as a whole, but the eventual price it garners on the market isn’t the only figure likely to change: The state aid estimate, said Bryan Manning of Albany-based CS Arch, is very conservative and could increase if other work in Meagher is related to classroom renovations, including the gymnasium, library and reading area. Boiler work, for example, would benefit both classrooms and the central office, and would still be partially eligible for state aid. Elevator work, which would not impact the pre-K program, would not.
“I think the aid is only going to get better,” Manning said. “By how much? I’m not sure. We have to negotiate that with State Ed.”
Numbers should improve
Trustee James Shaughnessy said that the district should make it clear that figures are likely to change favorably between now and when voters head to the polls.
“I’d just like the public to know that that’s the maximum costs from our capital reserves, and it’s likely to be significantly less than that,” Shaughnessy said, adding that with a number of potential bidders having already expressed interest in Cioni, located in the heart of booming Uptown Kingston, it’s possible the property will sell for more than $1 million.
Voters authorized the district to sell the Cioni Building in 2012 by a margin of 3,642-852. At the time, the cost of renovating the facility was estimated at around $3 million.
Originally opened in 1874 Meagher was expanded in 1917, 1961, and 1996; its current size is 31,600-square feet on a 3.6-acre lot that may make it difficult to expand any further. Meagher was shuttered in 2012 as part of a comprehensive “rightsizing” plan that dropped the number of elementary schools in the district from 11 to seven to address a dwindling student population, though Padalino said during last week’s meeting that the district had recently seen a rise in student population for the first time in around 15 years.
Prior to voting for the May 16 ballot placement, trustees spoke in favor of the plan.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to look at what our properties are in the district and utilize them to their best advantage,” said Trustee Suzanne Jordan. “And I think that, since Meagher school was closed, there has been a negative impact on that community and just the vitality of that area. … I’d rather put the money into a building that is a school building that will not be easily adapted to something else. I think that’s a more responsible way to go as a board and for our community.”
Padalino said he expects a report on how to proceed with listing Cioni for sale to be ready soon.
“Our real estate broker, Joe Deegan [of Deegan-Sanglyn Commercial Real Estate], has already given us his overall report,” he said. “What I’m really looking for is some timing advice. The question is do we go out to bid before the referendum? Do we go out after the referendum? What impact would that have on the sale price, and what impact would it have on the amount of offers. We need a little expert advice on that.”