Bethlehem Central school board members unanimously voted on Wednesday, Jan. 23, to allow two propositions to go before the public in March on bonding for facilities upgrades and a new turf athletic field.
After months of discussion and with a more reliable cost analysis in place, board members finally put the proposal to a vote at a special meeting. The bonds will be put forward as two separate propositions, but they will be linked. Even if the plan to bond for a new athletic field were passed, it would not go forward should the facilities bond fail.
The opposite is not true, however. If the facilities bond were to pass, it would still go forward should the public vote down the athletic bond.
With some final adjustments in place, the facilities upgrades now stand at about $20.2 million. Superintendent Tom Douglas said the cost for some new kitchen equipment was eliminated from the plan after equipment was moved from Clarksville Elementary to be used at Elsmere and Hamagrael elementary schools. Playground funding allocated to three elementary schools was also reduced.
“That allows us to have discussions with the PTA about their fundraising,” said Douglas.
Costs projections for the turf athletic field were raised slightly and now stand at about $3.5 million. If the field proposition were not passed by the public, upgrades and drainage repairs would still be made to the existing grass playing field.
The estimates include “soft costs” for labor and materials. Once construction begins in 2014, those figures may be reduced further.
Although all board members voted in favor of allowing the plans to be voted on by the public, some still had concerns about the cost of the proposals, especially the need for a turf field.
“In the name of transparency, I think the community needs to know just what that $3.4 million is buying,” said Board Member Charmaine Wijeyesinghe. “It’s not just a field, it’s lettering and field support … and I think some of these things can go.”
Board Members Laura Bierman said she was still opposed to the inclusion of internal security cameras in the bond. She wanted specific policies to be written up to dictate their use. Douglas said such policies would be put in place, and added students had asked notifications be posted outside of buildings to notify the public of their use.
“I’m also disappointed a little bit that these, primarily football boosters, felt so strongly about (field improvements) for so many years but they haven’t shown any effort to put any money toward it,” said Bierman. “Whereas other sports and activities have done that.”
Board Member Lynne Lenhardt said she felt the work was needed because over the years maintenance hasn’t been able to keep up with the needs of the buildings because of cuts to educational aid.
If both proposals were passed by the public, annual taxes would raise by about $20 for a home valued at $100,000. That is assuming 70 percent of the project is funded by the state and the district is able to get the current interest rate of 4 percent. The life of the bond would be 20 years.
The public vote on the propositions is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 12. A presentation on next year’s school budget will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 6.