Saugerties school officials are already looking ahead at their next facilities project. But some members of the school board are expressing concern that the plans might be moving ahead without their having the time to digest it. They felt they had been taken off guard.
At a meeting earlier this month, superintendent Seth Turner made a presentation to the trustees about facilities needs. He said he hoped to put together a capital-improvement plan for public vote some time in December. The plan has yet to focus on any one area, which Turner said would allow input from the school board and the public.
Some trustees felt they should have been given more notice. “Part of the problem was we have a pre-board meeting and board members get the agenda ahead of time,” said board president Robert Thomann. “That item wasn’t on the agenda, so nobody was really prepared to enter into a discussion on it. It was sprung on us in the moment. People were just unaware of it. Some of it was based on a survey in September that we didn’t have access to. Hopefully, in the future we will have a more fruitful discussion on it. We have a lot of opinions on it, obviously.”
Krista Barringer, recently re-elected to a three-year term, agreed. She felt there needed to be more time for input from the trustees and the public.
“I indicated the superintendent’s presentation of a proposed capital plan was the first time we as a board were hearing of the plan,” she said this week. “I stated I felt it was the superintendent’s plan, and as it did not include the voice of other stakeholders it was not in alignment with the district goal for community involvement.”
Turner provided a timeline for the facilities project. He said he had always intended to include the school board and public in the planning process.
“My intent was just to bring it forward and let people digest the concepts, to get a conversation started,” Turner said. “We’re looking for something, and I don’t know what it would be yet, something related to art and technology. My idea was to bring forward a plan to get input from people, not to bring forward a plan that we’re definitely going to do.”
Turner said a December referendum might be unlikely. Any facilities project will cover obvious needs first.
“First we’re identifying what needs to happen,” he said. “You don’t have a choice when you’ve got to fix plumbing or roofs, things like that. And sometimes while you’re at it, if you can do things to make it better, make it better.”
Informal conversations were happening “from the first day I became superintendent,” he said. “Whatever event you’re at, wherever you go, whether it’s a musical performance in an auditorium or standing on the sidelines of an athletic event, you get the input from people as to what you could do to improve the facilities. Right away, literally the first day I was superintendent, I was visited by people who wanted to put lights on the football field.”
Though lights around the field haven’t happened yet, other improvements to the high school’s athletic field and fitness center have been talked about.
The district’s comprehensive $28-million facilities plan in autumn 2008 had included a new all-weather track and bleachers around the football field, as well as a state-of-the-art dedicated fitness center. At the time, then-superintendent Richard Rhau said expanding the track from six to eight lanes would have been too expensive, though critics felt the district was costing itself the opportunity to host large athletic events as a result.
This week, Turner said he’d like to look into that expansion as a possibility, as well as adding space to an overburdened fitness center. “I’d like to have better athletic facilities,” he said. “We have throngs of students who are coming in early in the morning and late at night to work out. Just recognizing how frequently and often these facilities are being used, and you see that just by walking by and seeing people in there all of the time, you start saying, I assume if we could, we would do a better job.”
An athletic field that could be used by sports other than football is also a possibility, Turner said. “We already have a need to redo some of the fields on our campus already,” he said. “They’re uneven or there’s roots. If there’s already a need where you have to go repair these things, why not have the conversation that was being held ten years ago?”
Turner stressed that nothing would move forward without the school board, the public and even the students having their say. “I have students who want to be involved in the planning process,” Turner said. “Our technology department, in hearing about some of these concepts, have students who use CAD (computer-aided design) and want to help with this process all along the way. That’s what’s happened since I brought forward this conversation.”
The ideal facilities plan would be have as little impact on local taxpayers as possible. “These projects that we’re talking about are probably going to be close to 65 percent to 70 percent aided by the state,” he said. “That’s ballpark. We have bond counsel who comes in and financial advisors who come in, and we’re trying to project five years down the road where the district is going to be. Some of the old bonds will be paid off, and if you don’t have a debt to replace that then you will have these fluctuations in your financing, and those fluctuations can be problematic. We want to make sure that we are not just doing a facilities plan, but that it’s part of long-term fiscal planning for the district with the intent of making sure we smooth everything out for the taxpayers.”
Trustees emphasized that they weren’t opposed to discussing a facilities project. “I definitely want to find out more about it,” Thomann said. “It was an hour-long presentation that called for the hiring of a construction manager. We definitely need to find more information. If it’s on a future agenda and we have an opportunity to review the materials, we’ll be in a better situation to discuss it and make better decisions about it.”
The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13.