LATHAM — After Colonie residents shocked observers by voting down a $196.4 million capital project that would provide additions or upgrades to most buildings in the North Colonie Central School District, the district is doubling back to reexamine the costly proposal.
A vote was held on Thursday, Dec. 15, on the project at the district office at Fiddlers Lane in Latham. Though school officials went into the vote confident, ultimately, the project was voted down 2,189 to 1,842. The vote resulted in a 30-year record voter turnout dating back to 1986, according to a press release.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Dec. 16, district superintendent Joe Corr said that while the project has been compromised with the down vote, it isn’t necessarily down the drain.
One of the driving forces behind the capital project was an estimated increase of almost 1,000 students into the district over the next decade. North Colonie has, since the summer, been emphasizing the urgency of the project, due to the fact that the district is at risk of losing state financial aid on the project if it does not have a general contract for the project signed by June 30, 2018. The fact that the buildings are indisputably at capacity, according to Corr, means that the school has a duty to bring another plan back to voters.
“We have to bring something back to voters,” Corr said. “Our focus right now is, the voters participated, they participated in record numbers, they provided us with information, feedback, we have to go forward, we have work to do to address the problems that we face.”
Last Monday, the project was subjected to some criticism in the form of Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners, who chastised the district not only for holding the vote just 10 days before Christmas, but also for providing only one polling place. But, Corr said that commenting on whether or not Conner’s criticism had an effect on the vote result would be purely speculative, and also noted the restriction of the polling to the district office was a result of state education law. In order to use multiple sites for polling, Corr said, the district would need a registration system for individual voting precincts.
The district will be analyzing exit poll survey results to gauge what its next steps will be in developing a new game plan. Corr said that it’s possible that the mood towards the project could change if the price tag is lowered, and said that presenting the project in smaller chunks might no be outside the realm of possibility, but emphasized that the district needs time to regroup, and that they can’t have another referendum on the project for 90 days, anyway.
“It was a sizeable ask on the district’s part, and I don’t want to minimize that,” Corr said.
The down vote will now force the district to work with a tighter time frame than they had before in order for state aid to be granted.
“It is a significant setback,” Corr said of the down vote, noting that the project design process and state education approval process would have taken months to complete and taken the district right up until the state aid deadline before the down vote. “It places an enormous challenge in front of us, because, again, we do have to do some revision of what we initially proposed. You’re very very tight in that timeline now. And you want to do this process in a thoughtful manner. You want to do it in a manner that’s not rushed, so you develop the very best for your students.”
And, Corr said, though he understands the burden such a project would place on taxpayers who do not have children in the school district, or who didn’t vote, he insisted that the project will have a multigenerational effect that will ultimately strengthen the community.
“As a lifelong educator, I believe in the value of education and I believe that education is a very, very solid investment,” Corr said. “I would tell them that, yes, I do realize this is quite an ask, and it does require sacrifice, and I appreciate the burden that it would impose. But at the same time, I think that it is a great investment, and it is a great investment in the future of this community and the future of our country.”