The architectural firm hired by the Kingston City School District to identify facilities needs in district schools recently reshuffled the list in an effort to break up the project into smaller chunks, based on urgency.
The request to isolate the most pressing maintenance needs came from the school board’s Master Plan Facilities Committee, chaired by Trustee Chris Farrell. According to Farrell, it was thought that the estimated $130 million it would cost to address infrastructure needs at Kingston’s 11 elementary schools and pair of middle schools would be more than the community might be willing to bear, especially with a $92 million high school renovation project also in the works.
“It wasn’t really reprioritizing, but was kind of helping us compartmentalize it so we can address it in smaller chunks rather than saying we need $130 million at once,” Farrell said. “We want to reprioritize it to make it a little more absorbable by the community.”
White Plains-based KSQ Architects, the company who helped the district craft its recent mostly state-funded EXCEL project, identified a wide range of needs, including replacing and repairing roofs and boilers, upgrading plumbing and electrical systems, repairing parking lots and making some buildings more handicapped-accessible.
Initially, the most pressing concerns identified by KSQ totaled around $58.78 million in needs, but that number was scaled back by roughly $14 million because the architectural firm felt that some of the issues could be handled within the district’s own budget and through other means, rather than be paid for via a bond.
School board President James Shaughnessy said it was necessary to build a comprehensive wish-list not just because of the needs of the district’s infrastructure, but also because the New York State Education Department (SED) wants to see it spelled out that way in a five-year plan.
“That’s the planning stand that SED has,” Shaughnessy said. “They don’t look for anything to be done in 10 years; the furthest they look out is five years. I don’t think SED expects that all of that work is going to be done in five years, but you need to identify it because if you want to go out and seek funding for something like that it has to be identified in the five-year plan or else SED won’t approve it.”
Farrell said the hope is that in addition to addressing the needs of the district today, a facilities improvement plan would also set up a timetable for the future.
“The challenge is going to be, once we’ve begun, is to have future boards be able to address these maintenance tasks,” Farrell said. “If we built a roof in 2010, that roof in 2030 is going to need to be considered for a new roof.”
But with the economy both locally and beyond still slow to recover, does the district worry that public approval of projects with such high price tags might be difficult to attain? Shaughnessy said the economy might actually make this more viable today than when times are better.
“One can make a pretty convincing argument that now is a good time to do it because interest rates are very low and there’s a lot of capacity within the construction industry to do this kind of work, so one could expect very favorable prices for getting work done,” he said. “And it needs to be done; it’s not work that can be deferred indefinitely.”
“Basically we’re trying to address maintenance and repair projects in the district through a bonding project, and the idea of actually putting money in the current budget is just not going to address everything,” he said. “It would be 100 years before we get it all done, and the reality is that some of these things have been ignored for years and years and years.”
Farrell said the next step in the process is to have the facilities committee and a building inspection committee also attached to the school board go through each of the elementary and middle schools in the district to see firsthand the issues identified by KSQ.
“We’re hoping to bring someone from KHS-TV along as well to film what the problems are and then put it out on KHS-TV,” Farrell said. “We know the public is not going to be able to get out to each of these schools to see what needs to be done, so hopefully by showing them that people will see that we need to find a solution.”