A $107.1 million districtwide facilities project is still in the cards in the Kingston City School District, but at a meeting last week the Board of Education heard about alternative options that include portions of the plan.
During a meeting of the School Board held February 16, trustees heard about the different scenarios from Armand Quadrini, managing principal of KSQ Design, the New York City and Tulsa, Oklahoma-based architecture firm that’s had a long relationship with the district.
“Your homework assignment was to have us explore alternative reinvestment options,” Quadrini said. “So if we were to sort of take the whole $107 million and break it down into smaller pieces, what could those potential reinvestment options look like?”
The full $107.1 million proposal covers work in the district’s pair of middle schools and its seven elementary schools, including installation of air-conditioning, which Superintendent Paul Padalino said was a popular choice among those who responded to a survey about the $14.3 million the district was allotted as part of the federal $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021.
“When we reached out to our parents and our community we said, ‘What are the most important things for using our ARP funding?’, the number one thing was air conditioning,” Padalino said. “Clearly our summers are starting earlier and ending later.”
But the superintendent added that the ARP money would go further spent elsewhere.
“For many reasons, and I’ve said this before, using our (ARP) funding for building projects makes no sense,” Padalino said. “We get 63 cents on the dollar for building projects if we do them through a capital referendum; we would get zero per dollar for construction if we use the ARP funding. It’s much smarter to use 37 cents than a full dollar.”
In addition to the complete $107.1 million plan, trustees also heard about three other options, each comprising a portion of the full scope of work.
– A $39.6 million plan would cover the entirety of proposed work at J. Watson Bailey Middle School ($29.4 million to add 80 parking spaces, new water services, concrete curb replacement, replacing windows and roofing, main office renovations, repair of a gym divider roof beam, refurbishing the kitchen loading dock, and a renovation of the auditorium) and Harry L. Edson Elementary ($10.2 million for sidewalk and access improvements, repaving the path to the lower recreation field, adding windows, restroom renovations, fire protection system upgrades, replacing kitchen waste piping, adding water bottle fill stations, installing a portable generator hook up, and fire alarm system upgrades).
– A $60.6 million option would include all proposed work at Bailey, Edson, Ernest C. Myer Elementary ($9.7 million for 14 new parking spaces, sewer system replacement, exterior stair replacement, resurfacing the playground, replacing termite-damaged floors, replacing 62-year-old windows, and refurbishing interior stairs and railings) and Robert R. Graves Elementary ($11.3 million to create a new parent pickup area and new bus area, replace soccer field drains, add a canopy to a portable building, replace windows, restroom renovations, and replace wood doors and frames).
– Finally, a $45.3 million plan to just install air-conditioning in the nine schools in the original proposal was discussed.
The different options were presented two weeks after Trustee James Michael expressed concerns about entering into a new facilities project so soon after the near-completion of the district’s $137.5 million Kingston High School Second Century Project. Michael, chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee, was giving his regular report during a School Board meeting held on Wednesday, February 2 when the subject was broached.
“We’re going to be paying interest on this project until the year 2037,” Michael said of the Second Century project. “It amounts to about $35 million. $115 million is the actual cost, $35 million the interest. It’s a $150 million project.”
Michael was still effusive in his concerns during the February 16 meeting, saying that the district’s debt on the work at Kingston High was too financially burdensome to be added to by another project.
“I have always opposed strongly this project right now,” Michael said. “I would say $160 million with interest we’re going to be paying for the next 15, 20 years. We owe accountability and responsibility to the taxpayers in the whole community…I would like to recommend to the board and to the administration that we put it on the back burner for another year, maybe next year we have more discussion about it. But as of today, I strongly oppose it.”
Aid reduces the cost
Padalino disputed Michael’s summary of the Second Century project.
“I just want to make a correction,” he said. “This is not $160 million that the local taxpayers are paying for Kingston High School, it’s $61 million. After our aid comes in we will be paying $61 million for Kingston High School on a $150 million project, inclusive of interest.”
The superintendent added that building aid allows school districts to do important work while being responsible to local taxpayers.
“The consistency with which building aid has been applied to building projects in 16 years as a superintendent is consistent,” he said. “It’s reliable, it’s there. You can calculate it. Any of us. It’s not rocket science. If I told you today you could buy a $100,000 car for $37,000, you would buy it.”
Padalino said he understood that the cost of a new facilities project would likely be overwhelmed by the cost of waiting.
“Maintaining our buildings instead of constantly fixing our buildings is a much better way to do business,” he said. “It’s much healthier for our students, and in the long run it really is less expensive for our taxpayers. We’re coming off $137.5 million at Kingston High School because Kingston High School was ignored for about 25 years. We don’t want to end up there in our other buildings.”
Other trustees agreed.
“I think that this board and the superintendent have done a wonderful job of maintaining, repairing (and giving) regular attention to our campuses,” said School Board member Nora Scherer. “But let’s face it, aside from the ones that have been renovated totally, they’re older. They’re 50 years on up to 70-plus. G.W., some sections of Myer are very old and date back to the 1930s. Deferring a lot of these things, we run the risk of having emergency repairs required…The prudent thing to do is make sure we don’t encounter those kinds of emergencies if we can at all avoid them.”
Fellow Trustee Suzanne Jordan said that moving forward now as opposed to waiting made sense not only financially, but also for its students. “I think the responsible thing to do is to say we value all of our students and we want to provide them all with safe, healthy buildings,” Jordan said. “I would daresay that the total is only going to be exponentially bigger. That, to me, is not saving the district taxpayer any money at all. I’m in favor of making a commitment now. I’m not in favor of deferring.”
Whether to move forward on a facilities project, and what that project might actually look like, is expected to be further discussed during a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 16.