Saugerties to put $22m facilities improvement project to voters in December

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Saugerties School District will seek public approval this December for a $22,000,390 districtwide facilities improvement project officials say will have zero impact on the local tax levy. 

During a virtual town hall last Thursday, October 1, James Bouffard, a senior architectural designer with Tetra Tech Architects and Designers, used dozens of photographs to augment his presentation. The average age of the district buildings is 69 years. Leaks in the ceilings, walls and floors have wreaked havoc on exterior walls lined with stucco and beneath floors lined with cork. 

Bouffard commended district maintenance foreman Randy Ricks and his department for doing what they could. Tackling the proposed facilities project now was good timing. The funding would be supplied by a tax-neutral spending plan rather than out of the maintenance budget. 

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“You’ve got a fantastic facilities crew,” Bouffard said. “They’ve been able to make strides on keeping up with many building needs .… Like your house, there’s always work that needs to be done. And you have to invest money in it to preserve that infrastructure.”

The $22-million figure is the maximum the district can spend without impacting the local tax levy, So far, some $17.538 million in work has been inserted in the multi-year project. The proposal includes work at Saugerties Junior-Senior High School ($5,755,930), Cahill Elementary ($1,764,639), Grant D. Morse Elementary ($1,671,367), Charles M. Riccardi Elementary ($602,818), Mt. Marion Elementary ($378,179) and the Hidebrandt Building on the SHS campus ($653,053). 

A hazardous materials abatement allowance of around eight percent of the construction budget has added $866,000 to the raw construction budget. Two ten percent line items for design and construction contingencies have been added. A quarter of that total is listed for incidental expenses, leaving $4,462,293 in unassigned funds from the $22 million. 

Though additional projects across the district are still being considered following a lengthy facilities review, school officials and project consultants from Tetra Tech and BBL Construction assured the public that a $22-million cap would ensure the local tax levy is not impacted. 

“The overriding theme has been facilities preservation,” Bouffard explained. “It’s important work that’s got to get done to make sure that you have safe and useful facilities, How do we get it done in the most fiscally responsible manner that has the most benefit for the district and everybody else?”

Several of the items identified in the proposal are related to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The high school will require a new wheelchair-friendly entrance to the home economics suite The junior high school will replaces door hardware, including doorknobs that were donated used by IBM in the 1990s. 

There will be roofing repair and replacement projects at nearly every building, masonry and exterior work, sewer-pit and pump-feed repairs, water-main improvement, electrical work and ceiling-tile replacement. A boiler at Morse is so old, Bouffard said, that it’s almost impossible to find replacement parts. Inefficiencies in every building in the district are costing money, he added. 

Most of the gyms in the district are also getting some sort of attention, most notably the high-school gymnasium, which would have its original stackable wooden bleachers replaced. Original mechanized folding partitions would be replaced by modern manually operated curtains. A protective netting alongside the soccer and lacrosse fields on the high-school campus will prevent errant balls from entering the bus circle. 

Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said that when he was hired last year he was told that the end of the debt this year from a 2005-06 facilities project was an opportune time to get started on another districtwide plan. “We have debt service that is coming off from our previous project, and that keeps us at a neutral tax impact going forward,” Reinhardt explained. “It’s a tough time, but we have to preserve our buildings. A capital project is the most efficient and economic way to get work done because of our state-aid ratio.”

The district receives roughly 66 percent in state building aid for approved projects. The remainder in this proposal is covered by retiring debt and capital reserves. 

“Doing this project at this time would keep the tax levy stable,” said Jane St. Amour, the district’s business manager. The hits to regular state education aid resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout are not expected to affect facilities improvement aid. “The state building aid hasn’t changed for this district for a few years,” she reported. “But it’s based on the wealth of districts throughout the state, and a lot would have to change.”

There is still work to be done on the proposal before it goes to referendum on Tuesday, December 15. Details are still being added to the plan, and the plan has yet to be approved by the school board. A SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) determination also has to pass, 

Should the public give their approval in December, the project is then polished and presented to the State Education Department for its consent, Construction could start as early as the summer of 2021, though would more likely begin some time in 2022. The project would likely be completed by the end of the summer of 2023, though could extend into 2024.   

“That’s a pretty sizable project,” Bouffard said. “And it really lets the most critical work in the district start to happen.”

For more information on the proposal, visit: https://www.saugerties.k12.ny.us/Domain/930

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