Tuesday, October 28 will be an important day for both the Highland and the New Paltz school districts. Each will bring a capital project proposal up for vote on that date: Highland is asking voters to approve a $17.5 million project and New Paltz is asking for $52.9 million. Both districts have old, decrepit buildings and facilities in poor shape that need restructuring to bring them up to current health and safety codes. Neither district is seeking to add luxuries; it’s all about replacing failed, outdated systems and infrastructure and providing for the safety and health of students and staff along with adequate space to meet the demands of the educational programs. And a “no” vote doesn’t mean the work won’t get done; it just means that the money will have to come from elsewhere, and that’ll mean cutting back on programs to balance the budget. Following is a recap of each district’s capital project.
Highland Central School District
Polls will be open Tuesday, October 28 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the band room at Highland High School, 320 Pancake Hollow Road in Highland. Absentee ballots are available online at www.highland-k12.org (under “Facilities” and then “Voter Info”) or by calling district clerk Lisa Cerniglia at (845) 235-0739.
Financials of the project
State aid will pay for 66 percent of the $17.5 million proposed capital improvement project, or approximately $11 million, which reduces the local share to just under $6.5 million (exclusive of interest, which is also eligible for state aid). Repayment will be made over 15 years. Taxpayers will not see any impact until 2018, by which time old debt from past projects will be paid off and replaced with this new debt in a seamless transition that keeps the budget stable. If approved by voters, the estimated impact to a homeowner with a Basic STAR exemption will be $9 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value. For seniors with an enhanced STAR exemption, the estimated cost in taxes will amount to $4 per year per $100,000 assessed value, and commercial properties (ineligible for an exemption) would pay $13 in taxes per year for every $100,000 of assessed property value.
How they arrived at the numbers
After a $25 million capital improvement project was rejected by voters in December of 2013, the Highland BOE arrived at the current $17.5 million project after reviewing the recommendations of the Facilities Needs Review Committee, a group of community volunteers the board put together to review the scope of work and advise the board on how to proceed with another project proposal. After months of discussion, the result was the slimmed down project currently up for vote that eliminates the controversial installation of an artificial turf field at the high school from the 2013 project in favor of installing less costly improved irrigation to the existing field and streamlines the construction of the secured entrance portals at all three schools.
What a “yes” vote on the bond issue will pay for
“We’re only doing things that are absolutely necessary and critical to operations and the safety of the students and the staff,” schools Superintendent Deborah Haab said recently. Safety concerns will be addressed at all three schools, where old electrical panels have breakers that don’t trip, fire alarm panels that cannot identify where in the building an alarm is going off and air flow and ventilation requirements within the classrooms that aren’t being met.
At the high school, emergency windows don’t work, asbestos is released in the fitness room every time a weight is dropped on the floor and there are deteriorated wooden steps at the athletic fields leading up to the bleachers used by some 2,000-2,500 people during games and events. At the middle school, the bleachers have dangerous fall-through openings and the entire structure holding them up is crumbling badly. Handicapped access to the middle school is not done efficiently or to ADA-compliance, and the exterior of the building has a great deal of loose masonry that threatens its structural integrity. The asphalt paving at all of the schools is in need of repair, but at the elementary school, it’s breaking up in numerous spots, providing a constant tripping hazard to the many small feet that walk on it daily.
Passage of the capital project would enable each of the schools to have their main entrances reconfigured to control the flow of people into the buildings, with a secure vestibule where visitors are checked in before being released into the building. There would be an upgrading of alarms and security cameras to aid in controlling the entrances and alerting staff of intruders. The high school lacks emergency lighting in the halls and there are gaps in the communication systems to notify students and staff were there to be a lockdown called.