Kingston schools: $16 million in proposed school fixes will be on May budget ballot

The Kingston City School District will ask voters next month for approval to spend up to $16 million on capital projects at M. Clifford Miller Middle School and both John F. Kennedy and Harry L. Edson elementary schools. The money would come from a combination of capital reserves and state building aid. School officials stressed that the project would come at no additional cost to local taxpayers.

“That’s very important,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino this week. “It’s that penny wise, pound foolish thing. If we put this money in now, we won’t have to put huge money in down the road.”

At April 4’s school board meeting, Padalino ran through the work that would be done at each building, much of which he admitted wasn’t “too exciting.” This week, he echoed the sentiment, but stressed the need was there.

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“I always say it’s not the exciting stuff,” Padalino said. “We’re not building any new gyms, which people like to see. We’re just making sure that we keep our buildings safe, healthy, warm, and that our electrical systems are working right, our emergency systems are working right, and that we’re ADA compliant. That we get rid of asbestos where we can.”

At Edson, the district sees the need for selective site improvements, including concrete walkways and paving, window replacements, and mechanical upgrades.

JFK is also in need of site improvements, school officials believe, including walkway, asphalt and masonry repairs. Windows and main entrance upgrades are also in the plan, as are selective mechanical upgrades, emergency lighting, and a new elevator to meet ADA compliance.

Miller shares the same general need for site improvements, window replacement and emergency lighting, Padalino said. They also need to replace old electric panel boards. There are also plans for much needed work in the auditorium, said the superintendent.

“That is the only exciting thing we’re doing,” he said. “The auditorium was built with the building. We have seats that have broken that we’ve taken out. The picture shows a row of seats, and there’s one that’s clearly missing. It was broken and we had to take it out. We don’t replace them because they don’t make those chairs anymore. And if you look closely at the carpet runner, it’s being held to the floor with red duct tape.”

Padalino explained that there’s a lot more to the auditorium work than just upgrading everything.

“And of course one of the other things that prohibits people from doing some of that spot maintenance is when you pull up those chairs, you disturb the tile, and the tile from that era is all asbestos,” he said. “It’s not just as easy as pull up a chair and put in a new chair. It’s pull up a chair, pull up the tiles, abate the tiles, create a safe environment, put down non-asbestos flooring, and then put the chairs in.”

It’s not a new method

Padalino pointed to more modestly priced capital projects in the past few years that were funded similarly, including roof and ceiling replacement at the three schools that would see up to $16 million in renovations should the public approve the plan. Other schools also had different work being done, and Padalino said he understands that there’s the appearance that the KCSD is constantly being renovated and repaired.

“There’s a lot of work being done in the district,” Padalino said. “We did this three years ago: We did about $25,000 worth of work, the new roof on Miller, we put in new sidewalks and a parking lot at Chambers [Elementary], we put in a new heating system in JFK and Edson. We did it then the same way, using capital reserve and state aid, so it didn’t raise taxes. But people see, especially if they look at the high school, that we’re renovating Meagher, and we’re going to raise their taxes. But we’re not. It’s kind of a win-win.”

Padalino said he hoped the public would see the value of moving forward on the work now.

“At the heart of this is to not end up where were in deferred maintenance mode, where all of a sudden you have an emergency because you haven’t done your regular maintenance,” Padalino said. “When you have a 30-year roof and it’s been 50 years and you’re spending your time and money patching it, you really should put on a new 30-year roof. Those are the kinds of things that in the not-so-distant past, that’s how schools operate. This is really keeping our heating systems upgraded; keeping our roofs tight; our windows that are original, making them 21st century energy efficient, not falling out, and opening and closing safely.”

The superintendent said he brought a “renew and refresh” outlook to the district five years ago, including hiring Tom Clapper as the director of buildings and grounds and increasing that department’s budget by around 25 percent to allow for continued maintenance, projects which can be completed thanks to capital reserve and state building aid, which usually covers around two-thirds of the cost of eligible facilities projects.

“Having a capital reserve allows us to have money sitting there so we can A: In an emergency, we can pull from it, and B: When we have projects like this we can then combine money that’s in our reserve with state aid and get those things done,” Padalino said. “So we don’t have leaky roofs, poor electrical service into some of the classrooms, and have a properly working heating system.”

Buildings update

With regard to other facilities projects, Padalino said the sale of the Cioni Building and transformation of the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School into a new district headquarters and pre-kindergarten hub are moving forward.

Last July, the board approved selling its current administrative headquarters to 61 Crown Street LLC, which is led by New York City-based developer Neil Bender and filed a bid as BRE Properties. The $4.25 million bid, with an eye on turning the property into a boutique hotel and spa, came during an open bidding session on the highly coveted property in booming Uptown Kingston. The next highest bid was for $1.8 million.

Earlier this year, trustees voted unanimously to drop to sale price from $4.25 million to around $3.47 million following an environmental review done by the purchaser, which was down to a variety of structural reasons. This week, Padalino said the contract of sale on Cioni was settled and that a closing date in early May could be possible.

Meanwhile, the district received the first review of architectural plans for Meagher from the State Education Department, giving school officials hope that they’ll be able to break ground on the project this summer and make the move from Cioni by September 2019. The cost of renovating Meagher has been estimated at $4.23 million, with any work dedicated to classroom or other academic space eligible for state aid.

Padalino also said that work on the $137.5 million Second Century plan at Kingston High School is still coming in ahead of schedule and on budget.

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“We’re finishing up the work that’s being done at Salzmann [Building], and both the new academic wings are in full function,” Padalino said. “I’m being told they’re going to hand [Salzmann] over to us in July, which is phenomenal. It’s about a month earlier than we thought. And then we’ll start the work in Main. We’re really pleased with the progress, and our construction management team is really on top of everything.”

Padalino said the relative ease with which the Second Century project is proceeding is partly due to the attention paid by the school board.

“We’ve got a lot of work going on in a lot of the buildings, but we’re doing it efficiently,” he said. “The school board has been good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and their property. It’s been a really smart way for us to attack this and not leave things until there’s an emergency.”