The Bethlehem Board of Education met on Wednesday, Sept. 7 — the same day their students returned to the classroom for the 2016-17 school year — to discuss district goals and accomplishments, standardized testing, and a proposed $32.15 million capital bond project.
The bond project, which would involve 111 separate projects to repair and/or upgrade district infrastructure, is expected to be presented to residents for a vote before the end of the year.
DELMAR — “Tonight,” said Director of Operations and Maintenance for Bethlehem Central Greg Nolte, “will be the sixth consecutive time I’ve been up here to talk about the potential bond project and tonight will be my shortest presentation.
“One of the district goals is value,” he continued, “and tonight’s presentation supports that. This work is going to help maintain the district’s facilities and make sure it’s in good working condition and that it provides suitable educational space for our students and for the broader community.”
The project, which includes 111 district maintenance and building projects identified as priorities in the BCSD Five-Year Capital Facilities Plan developed by the district last year, will cost a total of $32.15 million — a potential cost of $40 a year (or less) for district residents in homes that cost $250,000 or more. The proposed projects put forth in the capital plan, which residents can find on the district website, will go before the pubic for comment for 45 days before being put up for a vote. To date, there has been little feedback from taxpaying residents, but invested citizens will have a 45-day period during which to gain information and offer feedback.
“We’re coming to the point where it’s the last call for any changes,” said Nolte. “Are there any other additional comments that we need to talk about? I think to proceed on is kind of what we wanted to do with this meeting.” A few comments were made after the last meeting, he said, asserting that those concerns are being addressed.
“What we’re trying to do,” said BCSD’s Chief Financial Officer Judy Kehoe,” is make sure that we can even out our tax service in a tax cap world. And we have a series of bonds that will be fully repaid starting in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. That’s a $4.2 million reduction in debt service based on our existing debt. So, not only do we have the capacity to fund this project, because right now with the project at the $32.165 million amount, that estimated debt service would only be about $2.2 million and so you’ll still see a reduction in your overall debt service. Lower is always good, but there shouldn’t be any negative impact to the taxpayers with the issuance of the debt associated with this project.”
If Bethlehem takes on that debt, said Kehoe, the state would pay a considerable amount back to the district—close to 70 percent. While the project could cost taxpayers as much as $40 a year on a $250,000 home, Kehoe said that it is likely to be far less.
Also, said Kehoe, the district would use the entire $4.9 million currently in BCSD’s capital reserve fund to reduce the amount of required bonding.
“That’s what we created the reserve for,” said Kehoe, “and, if this project is approved, remember that it would require not just board approval but also voter approval.
“The reserve has a ten-year life,” she noted, “and a maximum $10 million allowed to be placed in it.
The largest item on the list of priority projects is a $5.7 million renovation of the high school auditorium, which was constructed more than 65 years ago and is used by the entire district as well as local community groups. Other proposed improvements include: upgraded interior finishes and new seating improved acoustics and lighting, updated stage rigging, installation of air conditioning, and the addition of a tech booth. Other improvements are also being considered as part of the project.
Additional security cameras have been proposed at all district schools, for a total of $877,594. Several schools require flame-retardant stage curtains, pool repairs have been recommended at the middle and high schools; Elsmere Elementary needs a new roof and Eagle Elementary hopes to expand its play area and install new playground equipment with the help of the Eagle PTA.
Technology projects are not included in the proposed list of projects since the district is eligible for more than $2 million in New York State Smart Schools funding and projects funded by Smart Schools will be developed independently of the capital projects now being considered. Energy improvements are being funded through an Energy Performance Contract which recently won approval from the New York State Education Department. There is no net cost to community taxpayers for the EPC—all costs are offset by energy savings produced by tax-credited energy efficiency upgrades.
Once the board adopts the resolution to go ahead with the projects, a requisite 45-day period will precede the public vote—during which resident may comment or question any aspect of the expenditures. The board hopes to bring the project to the public for a vote in late November or early December, depending on when the county can loan the town its voting machines.
“Assuming the community approves the project,” said Nolte, “we would get going right away on the design, which we’re estimating is going to take about nine months. And then, once it’s designed, we submit it to SED (NYS Education Department) and we’re guessing that it will take about 10 months to review “they’re in flux with some administrative changes, so we really don’t know how long, but they’re currently averaging about 10 months or so.”
Ultimately, Nolte said, assuming the project is approved, construction is likely to begin between April 2019 and November 2020.
For taxpaying residents who would like to weigh in on the capital project, two upcoming community forums will include discussion of project scope, time line and projected tax impact:
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Central High School, 700 Delaware Ave., Delmar, N.Y. 12054; and Thursday, Sept. 22, 10:30 a.m. at Bethlehem Public Library Community Room, 451 Delaware Ave., Delmar, N.Y. 12054.