Bethlehem Central Board of Education members experienced a slight case of sticker shock when estimates for facilities upgrades jumped by millions following an architect’s review.
On Wednesday, Nov. 28, Daniel Heukrath from educational design firm Ashley McGraw presented the school board with estimates and options to upgrade the high school’s athletic field and make repairs and upgrades at several buildings. Doing all the work would cost about $26.6 million, he said. Previous estimates from 2010 that included the new field weighed in at around $16 million.
Superintendent Thomas Douglas warned board members of the new estimate before Heukrath spoke.
“Tonight is sort of the culminating process from the community aspect to the board understanding potential facility issues and concerns over many years and deferments, as well as our obligation under New York State that we have done our due diligence when it comes to upkeep of our facilities and infrastructure,” he said.
The design team did not go over each item that needed to be repaired, but broke them out into upgrades needed at the high school, middle school, elementary schools, other district owned buildings and technology improvements. They then went on to discuss four options for upgrading the athletic field. None of the projects were given a priority level, but BC Operations and Maintenance Director Gregg Nolte will begin to work on prioritization with the design team.
Upgrades to the high school are now estimated to cost close to $4 million, with repairs to the roof and one gymnasium being the largest expenses. Middle school repairs are expected to cost about $3.5 million with new roofing and window replacements costing the most. Masonry work is also expected to be a major expense.
The cost of repairs at all elementary schools totaled about $5 million. Again, roofs and masonry were the most costly concern, as were aging floors and the fact some bathrooms do not meet code for handicapped students.
“We’re looking at a list that has everything but the kitchen sink in it, but we really wanted to be comprehensive,” said Heukrath.
The list contains some upgrades that were not previously identified, like security cameras in the high school. Board member will eventually need to decide what items they think should not be included in a bond referendum to be voted on by the public.
Costs to upgrade and repair district properties beyond the schools totaled about $900,000, according to the Ashley McGraw team. Technology upgrades, including backup storage for emergencies, would cost about $1.3 million.
In total, costs for infrastructure upgrades were estimated at $15.2 million, about $3 million more than expected. Those figures do not include upgrades to the athletic field.
Peter Osborne of Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture in Syracuse worked with the design team and presented four options to upgrade the field. The least expensive option would include resurfacing the existing track and improving the drainage of the grass playing field for a cost of $1.6 million. The most expensive option would include a installing a new multi-sport turf athletic field with a new eight-lane track for about $4.3 million.
Osborne said most of BC’s practice fields need upgrades, especially some of the soccer fields, and agreed the playing field does need a better drainage system. He said although keeping the grass playing field is cheaper, maintenance costs are nearly three times those of an artificial field. A turf field could also be used about four times more often than a grass field, he said.
“A grass field can only take so many activities before you beat it up, and weather plays a huge factor in that,” he said.
The estimated cost for the entire project along with a new turf field is about $26.6 million. That figure also includes incidentals or “soft cost” expenses, and does not account for state aid or potential energy efficiency grants.
Chief Business and Financial Officer Judi Kehoe said 95 percent of the project is eligible for aid, but the district expects to receive about 70 percent aid on the project.
She projected with aid, the average $250,000 home would see a tax increase of $36 per year on a $15 million bond. This would increase by $12 for each $5 million in the bond. The calculations include an interest rate of 5 percent, which officials feel is higher than what could be obtained today.
All school board members agreed a bond was needed, but have still not determined what the amount should be.
“Looking at some of the pictures of the roofs, if we don’t act now, that adds another year of planning,” said board member Matt Downey.
Board member Laura Bierman said a bond is needed, but she wanted to see some items put into the operating budget instead.
“Some of these items are too big, and we have to remember the possible 70 percent state aid that we might not see in the future,” she said.
The school board wants the public referendum vote to take place in March so it can happen before the annual budget vote in May. This means the board will need to decide the details of the bond in January. The next school board meeting will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. in the high school library.